Last Wednesday, October 9, staged the long awaited world premiere of Too Much Johnson at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto Silent Film Festival in Pordenone, northern Italy. As a long time attendee of the festival, fan of the work of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, and having had the honor to work at the preservation of Too Much Johnson, it was hard for me to stay away from Le Giornate this year. So I took the opportunity to travel to my native Italy and enjoy the event.
It is difficult to think about a better venue for the first screening of this long-believed- to-be-lost 1938 slapstick silent film. Not only is Pordenone the city hosting the world’s leading international silent film festival, defined by its aficionados as “the best film festival in the world,” but it is the very same place where a nitrate print of Too Much Johnson was recently discovered and brought out of the shadows. The inventive pen of a novelist could have hardly created a happier – and more surprising – ending.
When lights went off on Wednesday evening in a packed Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, an international audience of film scholars, historians, archivists, and simply film lovers, joined for the occasion by a varied crowd of journalists and Welles enthusiasts, was finally able to enjoy the explosion of vitality brought on the screen by the whole group of the Mercury Theatre and in particular by the stunning performance of young and extremely promising Joseph Cotten.
Images on screen were accompanied by an English live commentary by Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, introducing the audience to the world of Too Much Johnson. The commentary, integrating research conducted by the Motion Picture Department during the past few months, seems to pave the way for a new mode of presenting images that have reached us in a somewhat raw state, and consequently might need to be contextualized to be fully appreciated by an audience. And the audience of the festival was well aware of the privilege of being the first ever seeing Too Much Johnson, since the film was never completed by Orson Welles and shown in public before.
No wonder that request for tickets was so high that the festival organizers had to add to the calendar two extra screenings with Italian live commentary provided by Paolo Cherchi Usai and myself. All three screenings of Too Much Johnson have been accompanied at the piano by Phil Carli, with music especially composed for the film.
Tonight’s U.S. Premiere at George Eastman House will bring again on stage a unique combination of images, music and expert commentary. Something to definitely be looking forward to.