CASANOVA

CASANOVA (FR 1927)
(Casanova; US: The Loves of Casanova; GB: Prince of Adventurers)
Alexandre Volkoff

Score by: Günter A. Buchwald
performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone
Conductor: Günter A. Buchwald

Alexandre Volkoff’s Casanova is a prime example of the large-scale spectacular European co-productions that began to appear in the second half of the 1920s to counter American competition. The film involved French, German, and Italian talent, led by Russian émigrés from the Montreuil colony near Paris, notably director Alexandre Volkoff, actor Ivan Mosjoukine, costume designer Boris Bilinsky, and set designer Alexandre Lochakoff.
Much of this lavish costume film was shot on location, in Venice during the Carnival, and between Strasbourg and Grenoble (for the scenes set in Austria and Russia). Its sumptuous décor left no one unimpressed, and while some contemporary viewers lamented the filmmakers’ excessive attention to “material detail”, others, such as Jean Arroy, praised them for their “laudable effort at historical exactitude” and willingness to “reconstruct every splendour of the period”. It was only decades later, towards the end of the 20th century, that the film was fully appreciated for what it is: a “brilliant pastiche” (Walter Goodman), a playful and stylish variation on the myths and stereotypes of the period.
First of all,
Casanova plays with three mythical perceptions of 18th-century Venice: as the “capital of pleasure” and “city of decadence”; the “mysterious republic”, with the secret procedures of its legendary Council of Ten; and, of course, “the city of Carnival” – a world of theatre, masks, and make-believe. To these three sources of spectacular and somewhat predictable images (all present in Philippe Monnier’s influential book Venice in the Eighteenth Century, first published in 1908), the film adds a touch of orientalism, a tribute to the trend of decorative exoticism created earlier by Diaghilev and perpetuated by Russian filmmakers well into the 1920s. The result is an enchanting fairytale world, with its “serenades, casinos, gondolas for singing, and convents for loving” (Maurice Rostand, La Vie amoureuse de Casanova, 1924).
The film treats the famous Venetian, Giacomo Casanova (1725‒1798) in a similar manner. Loosely based on his memoirs, it adapts the story to genre requirements, while playing with the various myths around Casanova. Working on the script, Volkoff and Mosjoukine could have used the first unabridged French edition of Casanova’s memoirs (its first volumes had just been published) and the Russian edition of selected chapters, printed in Berlin in 1923. In fact, some of the film’s intertitles and images reproduce almost literally passages from critic and writer Marc Slonim’s foreword to the Russian edition. The scriptwriters used the memoirs as a source of situations and characters, to be freely reinterpreted in the spirit of an adventure film. Casanova’s long-prepared and laborious escape from the Piombi prisons was reduced to a spectacular leap. His encounter with Catherine II, only briefly mentioned in the memoirs, was romanticized and transformed into a comic episode, ending with an elopement. While the historical Casanova preferred travelling in comfortable carriages and fought his duel with Count Branicki with pistols, the film Casanova is galloping and fencing.
Casanova had already been transformed into a swashbuckler by the Romantics in the 19th century (Alfred de Musset imagined him “rhyming for a marquise, fighting for a dancer; a terrific swordsman, and on top of it all, an honest, noble, and generous character”), but the film’s treatment is more tongue-in-cheek, somewhat in the spirit of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “comic parody”
Casanova (1918). Casanova’s “noble” Romantic qualities are counterbalanced here by those of a picaro. He is both a noble hero and an unscrupulous rogue; a chivalrous protector of the helpless, like Zorro (a character much admired by Mosjoukine, who claimed to have seen Douglas Fairbanks in the role “at least 10 times”), and Harlequin the trickster, who charms, entertains, and fools his audience. The ambiguity is maintained in the level of Mosjoukine’s acting: contemporary reviewers noted that he played his part with a mixture of pathos and irony, and with “just the right amount of laughter underlying the seriousness”.
As a result, in spite of the apparent simplification called for by the genre, Casanova’s character in this film is anything but banal. Ivan Mosjoukine, then at the height of his film career, was certainly perfect casting for Casanova. A cutting from a German newspaper, preserved in Volkoff’s archive at the Cinémathèque française, shows the actor’s profile placed against that of an old Giacomo Casanova. The similarity is striking. Both were tall, had an aquiline nose, and were attributed by their contemporaries with an expressive (“ardent”) glance. Mosjoukine was also known as a generous person who loved partying, and, according to Jean Mitry, unlike Rudolph Valentino he was perceived as a successful seducer in life, not only on the screen. In his biography of Mosjoukine, published the same year as the film’s release, Jean Arroy claims that he “must have particularly loved Casanova, this genius who squanders his marvellous talents and thinks of nothing but love”.
Casanova was first screened in Paris in 1927 and was a great success with the public. Critics worldwide acclaimed it as one of the most spectacular productions of the time, “magnificently mounted, splendidly directed, finely acted and beautifully photographed” (The Bioscope, 14.07.1927). Forgotten after the arrival of the talkies, the film was rediscovered in the 1980s, when Renée Lichtig restored it from three badly damaged and incomplete versions from different archives. – Marita Gubareva

The music  The restored version of
Casanova is now 159 minutes. While watching the film in its entirety, some challenging questions arose for the scoring: How can I musically entertain a public for such a long time? How can I compose a score for a movie which is overwhelmingly visual in its acting, decor, costumes, tragedy and comedy, and locations, not to mention the rapid editing and quick-changing moods?
Should the music follow all this breathtaking suite of scenes? And, last but not least: what are the implications of Casanova in this “Me Too” moment? How do I see this person myself?
Casanova the 1927 film is a wonderful movie, a fireworks display of the joy of life, while Casanova the person is, in comparison with all other men, the most sensitive towards women. Menucci, a slimy coward; Peter, the czar, a brute; the Duc of Bayreuth, a rapist; etc. But all in all: Casanova is a comedy!
Musically, almost everything is exposed like the pearls of a necklace in the first 4 minutes of the Overture. There are 5 themes: 1st Movement, action, speed, Italy; 2nd, Casanova, almost a comedian, always dancing on the edge of a sword; 3rd, a Hollywoodian love theme; 4th, the timpani in ¾ bar, the turmoil, Italiana mixed with the Neapolitan
Canzone, known as “Carnevale di Venezia”; and 5th, Peter, the czar, as an example of all kind of craziness and aggression.
These 5 themes appear throughout the whole movie, not as a one-to-one
Leitmotiv but as musical material for eternal variations. That’s why I call my opus “Symphonic Variations”. I am thankful to many composers: Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, André Campra, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Johann Strauss Jr., Sergei Prokofiev, whose influence you may discover with little hints. My single secret: I once again learned that “less is more”, that reduction is an essential creative means, and the single challenge was how to stretch it to 159 minutes. The overture was composed within a day; the remaining 155 minutes needed 2 years. – Günter A. Buchwald

CASANOVA (FR 1927)
(Casanova; US: The Loves of Casanova; GB: Prince of Adventurers)
regia/dir:
Alexandre Volkoff.

scen: Norbert Falk, Alexandre Volkoff, Ivan Mosjoukine. photog: Nicolas Toporkoff, Fedote Bourgassoff, Léonce-Henri Burel.
asst photog: Sammy Brill.
asst dir: Georges Lampin, Anatole Litvak.
scg/des: Alexandre Lochakoff, Edouard Gosch, Vladimir Meingart.
art dir: Noë Bloch.
cost: Boris Bilinsky, made by maisons Léon Granier, Karinsky et Cie.
consulente storico/history advisor: Constant Mic [Constantin Micklachewsky].
prod. mgr: Simon Barstoff, Léonide Komerovsky, Constantin Geftman, Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Grégoire Metchikoff, Ivan Pavloff.
cast: Ivan Mosjoukine (Giacomo Casanova), Diane Karenne (Maria Mari), Suzanne Bianchetti (Catherine II), Jenny Jugo (Thérèse), Rudolph Kleine-Rogge (Pierre III), Rina de Liguoro (Corticelli), Nina Kochitz (Comtesse Vorontzoff), Olga Day (Lady Stanhope), Paul Guidé (Prince Orloff), Albert Decœur (Duc de Bayreuth), Carlo Tedeschi (Menucci), Raymond Bouamerane (Djimi), Dimitri Dimitrieff (Lord Stanhope), Devar (Comte Mari), Boris Orlitsky, Aslanoff (amici di/friends of Casanova), Michel Simon, Paul Franceschi (sbirri/henchmen), Madame Sapiani (Barola, la domestica/Casanova’s maid), Laura Savitch, Nadia Veldi (le figlie di Barola/Barola’s daughters), Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Alexis Bondireff, Pachoutine (ufficiali nemici/enemy officers), Isaure Douvan (Doge), Constantin Mic, Maryanne (donne nell’osteria austriaca/women in the Austrian inn), Sammy Brill (carceriere/jailer), Castelucci (pescatrice veneziana/Venetian fisherwoman), Wrangel (dama di corte/lady-in-waiting).
supv: Louis Nalpas.
prod: Ciné-Alliance, Société des Cinéromans-Films de France.
dist: Pathé Consortium Cinéma.
uscita/rel: 22.06.1927 (Empire, Paris); 13.9.1927 (Cinéma Marivaux, Paris).
copia/copy: DCP, 159ꞌ (4K, da/from 35mm, 3600 m., 158′ , 20 fps, col. [imbibito/tinted, pochoir/stencil-colouring]); did./titles: FRA.
fonte/source: Cinémathèque française, Paris.

Restauro in super HD effettuato nel 2016 a partire da un interpositivo ininfiammabile ricavato da un negativo nitrato originale. La scena colorata “au pochoir” è stata restaurata in 8K presso i laboratori Eclair utilizzando un copia diacetato d’epoca. The super HD restoration was carried out in 2016 from a positive safety intermediate, based on the original nitrate negative. The stencilled scene was restored from a diacetate print of the era (8K, performed at Eclair Laboratories).  

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