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Woman of Paris
Event and Tour

Festival Il Cinema Ritrovato
Bologna, Italy - July 2005
Article and Photos by Linda Wada ©
Editing Wesley Wada

Special report about the trip with Lita Hill, the grandniece of Edna Purviance. Lita is the granddaughter of Edna's oldest sister Bessie Purviance Hill.

A loud scream filled the room around me, and I apologized to my good friend on the phone for the difficulty in communicating through the noise. London had just announced winning the Olympic Games for 2012, and the joyful crowd celebrated in a nearby eatery.

It was early afternoon July 6, 2005, at Gatwick Airport south of London. Lita and her husband Mike and I were waiting for our flight to Bologna, Italy.

Bologna is located in north central Italy about 60 miles west of the seaport Ravenna and the Adriatic Sea. The city lies on the western slope of the Apennine mountain range, which runs the full length of Italy

We had never been to Italy before, but with a little Italian studied and phrasebooks in hand, we were ready for our adventure.

The flight over went smoothly. Over France, peeking through the few holes in the clouds below made it difficult to get our bearings. But over Italy, the clouds parted to enjoyable views of the sea and Apennines.

Near Aeroporto G. Marconi di Bologna, the landscape flattened and countless farms could be seen below. In some ways, the land was similar to the northwestern U.S. or northern California's central valley, dotted with a patchwork of farms. On the local roads, cars were traveling the same direction as in the States.

We got our first good look at Bologna, as light orange tinted buildings filled the vista. The older central city radiated out in a circle with a tower commanding the center. Flat farmland stretches to the east of Bologna with mountains sweeping up to southwest flank of the city.

Farm country around Bologna

Once on the ground, the shuttle took us to the terminal and it was easy to navigate toward buses and taxis waiting to take passengers to the city. Mike took the lead in securing the taxi, giving his Italian language skills a test, and we were soon on our way.

A first-time visitor from the US would notice the small petrol-sipping cars and trucks on the road. The abundance of mopeds and bicycles were striking. Mopeds could easily be the most popular vehicles in Bologna, and several were always darting around and speeding away.

Our hotel was located near the center of the city, a quiet pedestrian-friendly area where vehicles are required to have a permit to travel. Our taxi had the paperwork and took us right to the back door of our hotel.

The nicely appointed room made it easy to refresh after hours of airline travel. While Lita and Mike settled in, I set out on a solo exploration of the neighborhood.

Walking about was like being in an Italian movie without the subtitles. As I know little Italian, facial expressions and tone of voices were the only clues to the content of conversations.

After a short walk, the street opened into the main city square Piazza Maggiore overlooked by a tall clock tower.

clock tower
The clock tower looking over Piazza Maggiore.
Photo: Linda Wada

A large movie screen dominated the back center of the square. Many people were just walking about or sitting on the long flat steps leading up to the church called St. Petronius. A few outdoor cafes could be seen around the perimeter. The center of the square was filled with hundreds of chairs for the film screenings under the summer stars.

After spending time in the Piazza, I decided to check out the basic necessities such as the nearest grocer, post office, pharmacy and stores. The hotel was in the midst of some high-end shops for clothes, handbags and shoes. If you were into Italian shoes and handbags, there were endless places to shop! Unfortunately, no used bookstores could be seen in that shopping area, which I hoped to find.

Bars and restaurants were abundant around the hotel, and newsstands were perched on many corners. The shops for more basic needs were Tabacchi shops. Each one was different. Some had bars, other eateries. Others just offered the basics like postcards, envelopes and scotch tape! And so course, they all sold cigarettes. These are also the best shops to get postal stamps for different countries. Just get your stamps there and leave your card at your hotel desk or nearest mailbox.

Dinnertime was approaching, so I headed back to the hotel only to find the restaurant we had chosen was closed for the evening.

Many Italian businesses do not post hours, and some open and close when they feel like it. So, if you see an interesting shop, just step inside. It may be closed if you leave to come back later.

With the restaurant closed, Lita and Mike decided to call it an evening. I headed out again to view the first film screening at the Piazzia, but by 9 p.m. I was ready for sleep. The cause wasn’t jet lag, for I spent a full month previous changing my sleep schedule to match European time. Rather, my schedule had been turned on its head in Chicago.

Due to 12-hours of delay and cancellations at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I had slept only eight hours between Sunday night and Wednesday evening. Wanting to be fresh for the rest of the trip, I decided to skip the film showing in the Piazza. (‘Paths of Glory' by Stanley Kubrick)

Thursday July 7th found us refreshed and ready to start our first full day in Bologna. After an enjoyable breakfast at Hotel Roma, I walked ahead of Lita and Mike through the hotel doorway and stepped onto the street. Suddenly I heard a strange sound behind me.

Lita had slipped on the step at the doorway and had hit the metal doorframe. While Mike attended Lita, we entered the pharmacy just a few steps to the right. The pharmacist cleaned and bandaged a cut on Lita’s arm. After this false start we were once again ready for the day.

A goal for the day was to get our tickets for the ‘A Woman of Paris’ event. I decided to walk about a mile to the Cinema Lumière to pick up our tickets while Lita and Mike experienced the sights and sounds at the Piazza close to the hotel. We planned to meet for lunch.

The Cinema Lumière was located in the Cineteca di Bologna. It has two theatres and the library where The Chaplin Archive is located. Tucked away on a narrow side street and built slightly below street level, the facility is a bit of a challenge to find for a newcomer.

Pharmacy mopeds Italy shoes and handbags
Green cross outside a pharmacy and mopeds, shoes and handbags galore!
I finally saw some people with festival passes around their necks walking toward a back street, and that was the clue I needed. At the entrance, festival organizers had provided internet access for visitors. I immediately took advantage of the opportunity to email my husband and Lita’s family back in the States.

Next, I met Lucia Principe, who earlier helped us with our accommodations in Bologna. She was busy providing guests with information for the festival. After a short chat, she helped me get our tickets for the ‘A Woman of Paris’ film event.

While I was waiting, I noticed the new book by Kevin Brownlow ‘The Search for Charlie Chaplin’. Upon opening it, I
realized it also contained a DVD of the ‘Unknown Chaplin’ series. For years the documentary had only been on VHS. I was informed Brownlow wrote this book over 20 years ago, and Cineteca di Bologna decided to publish. For a Chaplin fan, this was exciting to see!

The ‘Unknown Chaplin’ is my favorite Chaplin documentary. A must for any Chaplin collection, the series has scenes not available anywhere else. The idea was spun out of the ‘Hollywood Series: A Celebration of American Silent Film’, a 13-part series about the silent era created by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. The duo created other documentaries including Buster Keaton’s‘A Hard Act to Follow’ and Harold Lloyd’s ‘The Third Genius’.

I learned on this trip, that complex copyright issues have delayed the DVD release of the 'Hollywood Series'. Fans have been waiting years for this series to arrive on DVD, but will have to wait for legal matters to be settled before seeing this most valuable collection of silent film history on DVD. (UPDATE OCTOBER 2006 - This series is planned for DVD in the UK, but currently held up with copyright issues.)

With book and tickets in hand, it was time to head back to the hotel.

Cineteca, home of The Chaplin Archive. One of four venues for Festival Il Cinema Ritrovato.

While I was at the Cineteca, Mike and Lita enjoyed the morning exploring central Bologna’s museums, food markets and sites. Over lunch they shared their morning finds, and after lunch we returned to their favorites, snapping photos like typical tourists on holiday. Picture possibilities presented themselves with every turn of the head.

In the warmth of the day, we stopped for some gelato (Italian ice cream). It was heavenly of course, and we enjoyed every bite. The shop owner was joyfully friendly! He took pictures of us sinfully enjoying his gelato creations

street life
Leaning Tower, markets and streets in Bologna. Photos: Linda Wada

Italians eat their ice cream with a very tiny spoon, not the ‘scoop loader’ size we Americans use. Slow eating is still the art in Italy, and you actually can taste the food you are eating!

Fast food has invaded Bologna with a McDonald’s just off the Piazza Maggiore. Think Italian pizzas are like American ones? Forget it! VERY crisp crust and minus the heavy sauces. Topped with wonderfully fresh veggies and ingredients.

The cafés and restaurants still offer ‘slower home-style prepared food’ made with fresh local produce. We had some memorable meals.

It was getting late in the day, and Lita and Mike wanted to relax prior to the screening of the restored ‘Broken Blossoms’ that evening in the Piazza.

The festival schedule of films was not fully available to us before leaving the states, so it did not work out for us to view some of the restored Chaplin Keystone films.(see ABC Nightline Report)

I learned the restored films are looking exceptional and will be a major addition to the Chaplin collection. Fans have been waiting years for this to happen and will be eager to buy on DVD once the films are all finished.

Along with the restored Keystones, ‘Tillie’s Punctured Romance’ with piano by Neil Brand was also shown during the week.

At sunset, the Piazza started to fill with people. The orchestra finished its sound check, and the film began! Our first viewing of ‘Broken Blossoms’ on the big screen was especially nice under the evening sky. The crowd was quiet and respectful, and only distant thunder and clock tower chimes competed with the orchestra.

The last film for the evening was a short called ‘Rain’. A thunderstorm passed in the distance, but no rain fell as we ended a perfect summer evening in Italy.

Friday, July 7, 2005
Friday morning arrived early as the phone rang just after midnight. I had just gone to bed after watching some Italian news and a circus show. The call was from Lita with news about London.

Terrorists had set off four bomb blasts Thursday morning in London.

We did not learn of the bombings from Italian news reports, but from Lita’s brother-in-law in the States. Continuous reports were running on US satellite television news. No news stories or photos were apparent to us on the street. If people were talking about the London happenings, the conversations were all in Italian and people didn't seem excited.

CNN World cameras at Kings Cross
CNN WORLD camera focused on Kings Cross Station in London.
Photo: Linda Wada

I finally found an Italian television station reporting on the bombings. The Italian news reported and came back when they had new information. In contrast, American news was repeating the same story during the midnight hour.

I have very dear friends in England and some live close to London. And we were due to be in the British capital in five days...

At 6:30 a.m., I awoke and turned on the TV to learn the latest developments. The exact locations of the Underground bombings were being reported. The bombed double-decker bus was the number 30, a route I had ridden many times in London.

I have taken photos from the upper deck of that bus route while traveling through London. And I used the affected Russell Station and Kings Cross Stations often in the past. Our London hotel was to be near the Holborn Station, very close to the bombed areas.

At 8 a.m. the television was clicked off as we started our Friday in Bologna.

I phoned Cecilia Ceniarelli, head of The Chaplin Project in Italy, and was able to arrange to see her and Kate Guyonvarch (Association Chaplin) at the library.

After breakfast with Lita and Mike, I again set out on the journey to the library.

At the library, Kate and Cecilia greeted me. We visited for a while and they arranged to meet Lita, Mike and me at our hotel.

My goal for the morning was to view the ‘A Woman of Paris’ photo exhibit held at at Sede della Cineteca. This is the film restoring company located in Bologna known for their work in restoring many classic films. Their building was a few blocks away on Riva Di Reno (street). As was becoming a habit, I followed another couple wearing festival passes into the building and ended up in the office of the film restoring center, appropriately outfitted with shelves of metal film reels lining the hallway. The staff kindly showed me the exhibit site next door.

The photo exhibit had some rarely seen photos of Edna in Chaplin’s ‘A Woman of Paris’ taken from the Association Chaplin private archives. The images included scenes and test shots I had not seen before, along with a vintage 1923 movie house poster for the production. Chaplin was represented by photos of him directing on the set.

woman of paris
Some background: ‘A Woman of Paris’ was Edna Purviance’s first starring role, and the film was a major departure (and risk) for Chaplin. ‘Paris’ was a drama, not a comedy. The film did not have the Tramp character, and Chaplin appeared incognito only in a brief bit part. Chaplin hoped to establish Edna as a major film star with the picture. But Chaplin was uneasy about the public’s response, and a fateful and complex series of events caused Chaplin to pull the film from the theaters.

Edna filmed two more movies after ‘Paris’. Edna’s next starring role was in the ‘The Sea Gull,' which was also known as 'A Woman of the Sea'. The film was funded by the Chaplin Studio, and directed by Josef von Sternberg. (Sternberg first met Chaplin after directing a film with Georgia Hale. Chaplin later signed Hale as his new leading lady for 'The Gold Rush'.) Incredibly 'The Sea Gull' was never released, and the print of the film was deliberately destroyed by fire to settle Chaplin’s taxes on June 21, 1933.

‘Education de Prince’ was Edna's last film. It was made in France during Edna’s second European stay. She lived there for nearly a year filming and traveling. There are some clues Edna could have been working on a second film in France, which might explain her particularly long stay.

Prints of the ‘Education de Prince’ still exist, but are very rare. A VHS tape version was created about 1991 and the film was once shown at a French film festival. Today, I am actively trying to find the VHS of this film. Please contact me if you know of a source.

Bologna Streets
A highlight of walks through Bologna are the arcades. In the U.S., arcades are places to play computer games. In the U.K. an arcade is a large enclosed indoor shopping area. But in Italy, arcades are covered sidewalks in front of the businesses that line the narrow city streets.

Street after street, every Bologna arcade is a different architectural experience. Some arcades sport elegant columns and marble walking surfaces. Others peer through decades of city dust and grime that cover the decorative patterns. With historical knowledge, one could date the year each was created.

As we saw as we landed at the airport, Bologna streets are not at all straight. Some streets are not exactly as pictured on the map either, and may curve off in slightly different directions. To explore Bologna successfully, one always had to be aware of the street signs, most located high on the side of buildings at intersections.

Bologna arcades
Bologna has the most covered walkways in the world.
Piazza Maggoire was buzzing with activity when I returned there to meet up with Lita and Mike for lunch.

After lunch, we waited in the hotel lobby for the visit from Kate and Cecilia. But instead, Kate Guyonvarch arrived with David Robinson.

David Robinson, as Chaplin fans know, is the major authority on Chaplin and has written many books including his best known ‘Chaplin: His Art and Life’. It was a delightful surprise to see him walking through the front entrance of the hotel to be a part of our get together.

We chatted about many topics over a half hour. As we ended, Robinson gave us a tip about a special performance to be shown close to the hotel.

Titled ‘La Veillée des Abysses’, the circus show was created by and starred Charlie Chaplin’s grandson James Thiérrée. Victoria Chaplin Thiérrée is his mother.

After thanking Kate and David for their time and company, we set out to find tickets to Thiérrée’s show.

Tickets were available at one of the public information centers at the Piazza Maggiore. One offered free Internet service, helpful if you only need the Internet for a short period of time.

You will need your passport if a foreign visitor, and there may be a line of people waiting to use the stations. Other places to access the internet include computer shops and cafes with access that cost up to 3 euros an hour.

Tickets in hand, we started our walk to find the event location. On the way, we happened upon the world’s first university building.

Upstairs are exhibits showing the university’s past ranging from historical drawings of early beginnings to photos of devastation in World War II. One room housed the first laboratory where students formally studied human anatomy. A courtyard area tucked behind boutiques is used for talks and performances.

world first university
Anatomy room at the world's first university.
The best pictue of the stage I could get from near the back .
That evening, we arrived at the circus site tucked down a narrow street beside the Baslica Di S. Stefano. We arrived 15 minutes before the show started, and the crowds were already standing as there were few seats left.

Describing the show is difficult, since there wasn't a storyline. Also, to say it is a circus could be misleading. Poetic movement, eclectic props and sheer imagination placed the show into a realm beyond what people would think of as a ‘circus’.

Titled ‘La Veillée des Abysses’, this was a unique circus show created by and starring Charlie Chaplin’s grandson James Thiérrée.

Described as a “poetic fantasy adventure”, the show combined acrobatics, acting and dance. Seeing people 'eaten' by sofas, performers' heads hovering atop chair backs, and newspapers attacking readers were some of the theatrical marvels we saw.

Victoria Chaplin must have been fascinated by the circus her father Charlie took the family to each year in Switzerland. She would marry a circus performer. The couple created their own unique circus, and during those years their son James caught the circus bug as well.

In the show, certain moments in James Thiérrée’s performance echoed his grandfather Charlie Chaplin. One scene was straight from ‘The Gold Rush’. It was the scene where a hungry Charlie spies Henry eating inside a cabin. In a ploy to get Henry's sympathy, Charlie lies stiff as a board on the snow. Henry picks him up and carries the frozen figure into the cabin. James performed the move to a T! The crowd cheered an inspiring and inventive show.

Dawn of July 9th arrived…the day we had been anticipating. On a full plate for the day were speaking presentations, and a return to 'A Woman of Paris' photo exhibit with Lita and Mike. The evening's finale and highlight was the premiere of the restored 'A Woman of Paris' film with full orchestra at the opera house.

We started with Lita and Mike’s first visit to The Cinema Lumière. We saw the talks by David Robinson and Frank Scheide (co-author of ‘Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp’). Robinson previewed his ‘Chaplin and the Music Hall’, which he would repeat for ‘The Charles Chaplin Conference’ held July 21 – 24th in London. Scheide showed some of the extras from the ‘Unknown Chaplin Series’ DVD. Also, from BFI (British Film Institute), an early day Chaplin cartoon was shown.

Noted film historian Kevin Brownlow was on the festival schedule, but he was called to Los Angeles to edit a documentary. His absence was a disappointment, but at least his new book was available in his place.

at Cineteca and exhibit
Early afternoon the three of us ventured to the ‘A Woman of Paris’ exhibit. Lita, who actually knew Edna, was seeing many of these photographs for the first time, and it was a treat standing beside her and listening to her comments.

The exhibit was up for the full week of the festival and made for a pleasant break between the many talks and films shown during the week.

After being dropped off next to Teatro Comunate, (the opera house), we found a quiet place to reflect about the past few months and to have refreshments to toast the evening.

During our time in April working long hours cataloging Edna’s personal collection, Lita and I were in disbelief that we were actually going to Italy. Imagine how Lita felt as Edna’s great grandniece and someone who lived with Edna in Los Angeles. She was seeing Edna again, in a sparkling restored film of her starring role, premiering to an audience of nearly 1,000, with full orchestral accompaniment at a classic 18th Century Italian opera house!

For me, this would be a highlight in this seven-year research and web site project. Here I was an invited guest on a first-time trip to Italy witnessing ‘my girl’ celebrated on the silver screen. To see the film on the large screen with a live orchestra is a rare treat. Except for my London Festival experience in November 2003, this was only the second live orchestra event for me.

At 8:45 p.m., the theatre doors opened, and we walked over.

dressed for the event
A striking couple, Lita a beautiful
black dress, and Mike all in white!

We didn’t have a clue where our seats were in the opera house, as everything was written in Italian. We were led up and up flights of stairs, until we were shown a corner box seat on the second floor. As we looked out at the stunning scene, we were greatly impressed by the beauty of the opera house.

But we also noticed we didn’t have a clear view of the screen where the film was being shown. Three more people were soon standing behind us, but they could not see the screen at all. They departed for a better view.

After they left, we sorted out positions, and settled in to view the stunning circa 1763 architecture. One could easily imagine ladies in gowns and gentlemen dressed in formal evening wear entering the opera house in anticipation of the evening’s performance. We had an overview of the seats on the main floor and could see heads peeking out from the many box seats circling the house.

Mike's photo of Linda and Lita at the event.
Soon, the lights dimmed, and the spotlight was on the master of ceremonies. Many people were thanked on this closing night of the festival. And just before lights faded, Lita was to learn the evening had been dedicated to her, a most special honor!

The music for this showing was new for this film and new to the public. The original score for ‘A Woman of Paris’ was never felt to be Chaplin’s best work, since he had fallen quite ill during the time the music was created in 1976. Over the years, some exhibitors were reluctant to show the film, mainly due to Chaplin's 1976 score.

In 2003, Association of Chaplin in Paris was able to ‘recover’ 20 hours of music from recordings Chaplin did in 1951 for his film ‘Limelight’. Other pieces were also restored, from unused music created for ‘The Kid’ and ‘The Circus’. None of this recorded material was on paper, so all had to be transcribed to musical notation.

This evening the audience heard the first new score created from Chaplin's music since the last time ‘A Woman of Paris’ was released in 1976. The project to restore the score was overseen by Timothy Brock, who also conducted on this evening. At the end, the audience responded to the musical performance warmly with four standing ovations.

And the film, of course, was stunning to see on the big screen.

As unapologetically rabid Edna fans, we were delighted seeing Edna shine in one of her best roles. The film fulfilled a dream of Edna’s to do a dramatic role. The film is also impressive as the result of Chaplin’s desire to direct a serious film without the presence of his Little Tramp character.

As the applause ended, the event that had been the source of months of anticipation for us had become a memory. There was only time left to pick up a program and exit outside with the crowd. We took a cab back to the hotel and reception closing the festival.

But our story does not end in Italy. Next: LONDON tour and BFI: The Edna Purviance Collection revisited.

The Il Cinema Ritrovato is held each July in Bologna, Italy. The eight-day event features many classic films viewed at four locations in Bologna, with screen showings at Piazza Maggiore free to the public.

The 2005 event was the 19th year of the festival. Our main interest was the film 'A Woman of Paris', planned by The Chaplin Archive headed by Cecilia Cenciarelli. Here is the link to information on the 2008 festival, which will feature the work of Josef von Sternberg.

UPDATE: January 13th, 2008 our first book to feature Edna Purviance, The Sea Gull "A Woman of the Sea", was released. Published by Leading Ladies, this book is about Charlie Chaplin's lost 1926 film production, with film story and direction by Josef von Sternberg. This full color printed book includes over 50 never seen photos from the Sea Gull productions and many never before seen photos of Edna Purviance. All images from Lita and Ellie Hill's collection. Comments from readers about the book. Link to video introduction to book>

Special Note: Lita passed away on January 21, 2008, about one week, after The Sea Gull was released.

Update - June 12, 2008: Il Cinema Ritrovato 2008 (June 28-July 5) had a major presentation on Josef von Sternberg, with a series of his film works. Leading Ladies shipped some Sea Gull books to this event. more>

We like to thank our host, Cecilia Cenciarelli (The Chaplin Archive, Cineteca di Bologna, Italy), Lucia Principe for booking and everyone else who helped made the trip possible. And a special thanks to: Kate Guyonvarch (Association Chaplin, Paris, France), David Robinson (author and Chaplin authority), and Frank Scheide (co-author of ‘Chaplin: The Dictator and the Tramp). We like to thank them all! Except where noted, all photographs by Linda Wada Copyright 2010 © . Article by Linda Wada with text editing by Wesley Wada. All images should not be used without prior permission. This page was updated December 28, 2009.

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