France, 1927, 80 min.
Albert Préjean, Marisa Maia, Yvonneck, Olga Tschechowa, Jim Gerald, Vital Geymond, Paul Olivier, Alex Allain
AN ITALIAN STRAW HAT
UN CHAPEAU DE PAILLE D’ITALIE
For the fourth time, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Oslo International Film Festival invite you to Oslo Concert Hall to celebrate a silent film classic, and to give it a unique presentation with a full symphony orchestra live before the screen. With the fabulous Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Frank Strobel from Germany, who has led the previous silent film concerts, we can guarantee a new round of great entertainment.
After classics from the Soviet Union, USA and Germany, we now turn to France and René Clair’s brilliant 1927 comedy An Italian Straw Hat.
René Clair’s starting point was a play, a famous vaudeville farce from 1851 by Eugene Labiche and Marc Michel. The play has been staged in the theatre numerous times, including an Orson Welles production in 1936 with the title Horse Eats Hat.
René Clair transposed the action to 1895 and his fast-paced version is a hommage to the early childhood of film. From the famous farce, Clair forged a masterful satire of the French middle class (who reacted strongly against the film), with a great amount of clear-sighted irony concerning the prejudices of that period’s petit bourgeois.
The philosopher Henri Bergson thought the film a typical example of the “snowball effect”, a story in which a material object, very important to one of the persons and to be regained at any price, may lead to a series of events.
The all-important hat is eaten by a horse. The owner of the horse was on its way to his own wedding. The owner of the hat, a married woman, has met her lover in secret. He is furious and tries desperately to get a new, similar hat to avoid the woman being found out by her husband. All kinds of complications ensue and threaten the safety of everyone, anarchy on its way to chaos.
A simple theme, but René Clair stylishly moves his persons around in his images and milieu, as if it were a ballet brimming with surprising moments, keeping at all times his tongue in cheek and looking keenly out for comic possibilities. Many have pointed out the similarities with the master Charlie Chaplin, and some gags approach Buster Keaton.
Vaudeville, melodrama and musicals. Many modern directors seek inspiration from the history of film, and Clair’s masterpiece will still leave its mark.
The composer Benedict Mason is an expert on the combination of film music and concert music. He creates music brilliantly with and against the film and its madcap rhythm. From perfect synchronisation with action and movement, to themes for each person and other elements. With a 110-piece orchestra on stage brimming with excellent musicians, this will certainly be a celebration of one of the best comedies in film history.
René Clair was born on November 11, 1898 in Paris. As a child he practiced at puppet theatre with his brother, who became a film director as well. After volunteering in the First World War, René worked as a critic and journalist as well as landing some parts in French films. His directorial debut was in 1923, with Paris qui dort, and he made the classic avant-guarde comedy short Entr’acte (1925) together with artists like Erik Satie, Francis Picabia, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamps.
The satiric comedy An Italian Straw Hat was his commercial breakthrough and is regarded as one of the best European silents. In the thirties the musical comedies Sous les Toits de Paris (1930), Le Million (1931), A Nous la Liberté (1931) and Quatorze Juliet (1932) followed. Later he worked in Great Britain and moved to Hollywood in 1940, where he made five films, including I Married a Witch starring Veronica Lake. After the war he returned to Europe and directed films until 1965. In 1960 he was the first film director to be elected as a member of the Académie Francaise. René Clair died in Paris in 1980.
The Briton Benedict Mason started composing very young and played solo viola in the National Youth Orchestra. He received a music scholarship to Kings College, Cambridge and studied film and film music at the Royal College of Art. He has composed a lot of film music, as well as music for theatre, ballet, chamber music, opera and so on. He alternates between film and theatre and pure concert music. Among others, he is inspired by Liszt, Alkan, Schumann, Busoni, Bruckner, Sibelius, Satie, Rachmaninov and Ellington
Benedict Mason on An Italian Straw Hat: - “ It was an honour and a challenge to make this film music. A great responsibility, especially to do justice to Clair’s elegant sense of humour. I hope that Clair would have been satisfied. The freedom to compose without having the director looking over your shoulder, and without having to consider dialogue and sound effects is fantastic. On of the demands was to include Jacques Ibert’s Divertissement, an entracte made for a staging of the play in 1929. The rest is composed from scratch and is crammed with references, as a kind of ironic commentary on French music history. I have also given some thought to how film music would have developed if the sound film had never arrived.”
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