V-50: That Was the Viennale that Was!

For 50 years, a festival has enchanted movie-goers, celebrating a city’s love for the silver screen

Top Stories | Philip Ellison | December 2012 / January 2013

Viennale Director Hans Hurch (left) with ­actor Michael Caine (Photo: Viennale/Robert Newald)

Just days after the successful run of the 50th New York Film Festival the (in fact) more senior event, the Viennale – The Vienna International Film Festival – loped into town for its 50th appearance on 25 October. Yes, New York followed Vienna’s lead for once: the Viennale was founded in 1960, but suspended twice over the years, thus celebrating its 50th edition only in 2012.

A resoundingly "popular" event, V-50 recorded an attendance of 96,900, slightly exceeding last year’s 96,700, and filling close to 80% of the seats to be had. Of the total 345 screenings, 114 were sold out. With the spacious Gartenbaukino as its primary venue, and the prevalence of a variety of successful individual tributes and special programs, V-50 made room for a broad audience. The success stems from the Viennale’s exuberance about film and film culture, arriving as the shadows lengthen in late autumn, reminding us that movies matter.

In this jubilee year, despite last-minute cancellations by Werner Herzog and Isabelle Huppert, the Viennale was well-equipped with prominent guests: Michael Caine, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Marina Abramovic, Olivier Assayas, Patti Smith, Ingrid Caven, Thomas Vinterberg and Brillante Mendoza. Personally presenting new works were Mike Ott, Miguel Gomes, James Benning, Bertrand Bonello, Véréna Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Hal Hartley and Pascal Bonitzer, joining a total of 160 directors and actors in attendance.

Brandauer was on hand and, as ever, a great exponent of the Austrian film business, as he showcased the new film, which for him was something of a labor of love, The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich (see Kaffeehaus, p.32 of Dec 2012/Jan 2013 TVR).

Undoubtedly among the more "festive" highlights were the Michael Caine gala event, the exclusive evening with the "grandmother of punk" Patti Smith at the Metrokino, and "That’s Wolf!" a special programme celebrating the 100th birthday of Austrian photographer and (occasional) film cameraman, Wolf Suschitzky and featuring the downright avant-garde film Snow (1963), followed by the gritty Get Carter (1971) with Michael Caine.

Running concurrently with the Viennale, organised and hosted by the Austrian Film Museum, was the monumental "Fritz Lang: The Complete Works", a comprehensive retrospective dedicated to an artist whose work bridged one empire to the next: a 19th-century Viennese, a creator of (literally) mythic spectacles in the German-speaking film world of the 1920s, who earned new respect in mid-century Hollywood.

Ranging from Germanic legend with Die Nibelungen to the still-aborning Sci-Fi genre (Metropolis and Frau im Mond) to contemporary Weimar and Expressionist-influenced German films, both silent and sound (Spione, M, Das Testament der Dr. Mabuse) the fleet-footed Lang travelled to France where the picture he made with Charles Boyer in French, Liliom, tells a very French fable: All this was a prologue to re-inventing himself in America with some of the greatest of the film noir genre pictures and two Technicolor Westerns (!), The Return of Frank James and Rancho Notorious (in fact a noir Western featuring Marlene Dietrich).

Many of the Lang retrospective films were shown in restored prints with some, such as Die Nibelungen (2011 Murnau-Stiftung restoration, with an original score by Gottfried Huppertz), presented for the first time in Austria. (The restored Die Nibelungen was simultaneously released on Blu-Ray in a stunning new "Masters of Cinema" edition with great background "bonus" features). While the final numbers are not in as we go to press, the retrospective appears to be a palpable hit with an estimated total of 6,500 tickets sold.

The 4 November event, billed as a "Very Special Evening with Patti Smith" was that and more. Though only loosely connected to formal notions of a film festival, the unique genre-blending here was a worthy stretch of the festival concept. 4 November has an unusual significance for Smith, the birthday of one of her first influences and partners in art and life, the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and the death of her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, guitarist of MC5 in 1994. Hence, she agreed to an intimate concert for no more than 200 guests, dedicated to commemorating "lost friends and companions."

In the living room setting of Vienna’s Metrokino, it was just Patti with a borrowed and very badly out-of-tune guitar, and a copy of her 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir Just Kids facing those lucky enough to have survived the lottery for tickets. Smith did manage a few songs, among them our "a capella-meets-Karaoke" version of "Because the Night" reprising her sole "hit" (reaching #13 on the Billboard charts in 1978) and "Banga", the title tune from her current album which features howling dogs on the record (really). It was an eclectic event, but the real heart and soul of the evening was the poet herself, reading from her work. Surprisingly warm – there’s that word "intimate" again – Smith took the audience into her confidence, sharing her voyage of (self-) discovery, evoking the experience of Greenwich Village in the mid-1960s.

Endearing itself to film fans, and proving itself again an anchor in the city’s cultural calendar, the Viennale scored with its dedication to film, to audiences and to seeing film in context.

For more coverage of the 2012 Viennale, see "Inside Celluloid: Peter Kubelka at the Viennale" and "Klaus Maria Brandauer: the Outsider as Insider".


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