Silent Winter—a full day of silent film masterpieces, with live music—at the Castro Theatre, Saturday February 16, 2013
From the beloved slapstick of Buster Keaton to the searing drama of the old European legend of “Faust” to the exoticism of “The Thief of Bagdad,” The San Francisco Silent Winter Film Festival offers five great silent films, all screening on a single Saturday— February 16, 2013—at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. The event is sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFS), host to the acclaimed SF Silent Film Festival which will turn 18 this July. These are the early cinema lovers who brought Abel Gance’s fabled “Napoleon” to Oakland’s Paramount Theatre last March for the U.S. premiere of its restoration. Each of the films will feature an informative introduction by a film historian and live musical accompaniment by musicians who are watching the film as they are playing, making each screening unique. And there’s no better environment to catch these early masterpieces than on the big screen at the historic Castro Theatre which was built in 1922 during the silent era and is home to the mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, which will be played for some of the screenings. ”It’s such an enchanting experience and anyone of these films is sure to delight you,” said Anita Monga, SFSFS Artistic Director, “but, if you’ve never seen a silent film before and are looking for a recommendation, start with the Buster Keaton. You may find yourself sticking around for the rest of the day.”
SNOW WHITE— The festival starts at 10 a.m. with J. Searly Dawley’s SNOW WHITE, the 1916 feature motion picture adaptation of the popular Grimm’s fairy tale. The charming Marguerite Clark is Snow White who was 33 at the time and who had also played the role in the popular 1912 play “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Clark’s popularity in the play and other Broadway productions had led to a silent film contract in 1914 with Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. At just 4’10,” Clark was so petite and had such youthful features that she was able to easily portray characters much younger than her actual age.
J. Searle Dawley’s 1916 film is integral in the Walt Disney Family Museum’s 75th anniversary celebration of its own legendary “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which was the first full-length animated feature in motion picture history, the first film produced in full color and the first film produced by Walt Disney Productions. The 1916 film is one of the first features that Walt Disney watched as a 16-year old newsboy in Kansas City and would remember all his life. Disney attended a special free screening attended by sixteen thousand children, all packed into the Kansas City Convention Center. The hall was arranged with four separate screens set in the center of the room and the children circled round. Four projectors ran simultaneously and the film included live musical accompaniment. “I thought it was the perfect story. It had the sympathetic dwarfs, you see? It had the heavy. It had the prince and the girl. The romance. I just thought it was a perfect story.” Walt Disney
Film historian J.B. Kaufman who wrote both the catalogue and the definitive book, The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for the Disney museum’s retrospective, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic, which runs through April 14, 2013, will introduce the 1916 film and speak about its enduring impact on Walt Disney. Following the screening, Kaufman will sign his books, which will be for sale, in the lobby of the Castro Theatre (10 a.m. with Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano and Introduction by J.B. Kaufman)
THINK SLOW, ACT FAST: BUSTER KEATON SHORTS — A rare program of early Buster Keaton shorts from 1920-21, three of the funniest, most innovative comedies ever put on film featuring one of the great comic geniuses of all times. The 70 minute program includes One Week (1920, 24 m., w/ Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts) The Scarecrow (1920, 18 m., w/ Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Sybil Seely, Luke the Dog), and The Play House (1921, 23 m., w/ Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox). These films were made just after Keaton left Fatty Arbuckle to work on his own. It’s virtually impossible to take your eyes off of Keaton whose physicality was so graceful and whose timing was perfect. “I always want the audience to out-guess me, and then I double-cross them.” Buster Keaton (noon with Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano)
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD— There’s no swashbuckler more debonair than Douglas Fairbanks leaping lithely and imaginatively from one action-packed adventure to the next as he plays a prince trying to win the love of the princess in “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), directed by Raoul Walsh. In this age-old story, Fairbanks, the thief posing as a prince, is so overcome with love for Julanne Johnston, the daughter of the Caliph of Bagdad, that he confesses his true identity to her father. The Holy Man gives him a chance to win her and true happiness by embarking on a quest to bring back the world’s rarest treasures. Thus begins a rousing fantasy replete with flying carpets, winged horses, and underwater sea monsters as Fairbanks overcomes tremendous obstacles to rescue Bagdad and the princess from the Mongols. With William Cameron Menzies’ fabulous sets and Mitchell Leisen’s gorgeous costumes, the 1924 film was voted Best Film of 1924 by 400 film critics and catapulted Anna May Wong, the scantily-clad Mongol slave, to even greater popularity. This was Fairbanks’ favorite role and he’s at the top of his game. (2:30 p.m. with Musical Accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and Introduction by Jeffrey Vance and Tracey Goessel)
MY BEST GIRL— Mary Pickford’s last silent film, “My Best Girl,” (1927) by Sam Taylor, defines romantic comedy and is one of Pickford’s most enjoyable films to watch. Girl is the story of Five & Dime store stock girl, Maggie Johnson (Pickford), who falls for the owner’s son, Joe Merrill (Buddy Rogers), who’s masquerading as a new employee that Mary has to train. Of course, Joe’s parents have other ideas about the kind of girl Joe should marry. Pickford and Rogers (in his first role after the hugely successful Wings, 1927) are magical. In ten years Pickford would divorce Douglas Fairbanks and marry Rogers—a marriage that lasted her lifetime. Film historian Jeanine Basinger said in a PBS interview “…Women of working class who didn’t have much, came in and saw a role model, saw someone feisty, cheerful, upbeat about it, facing tragedy, doom — hilariously, and always with the attitude, ‘Well, I can win this. I can get over this.’ She offered hope and humor, and she was an amazing figure. She would also then perhaps turn out later in the movie looking perfectly feminine and beautiful. So this is a real connecting point to the whole audience, but specifically to the women of the day.” (Approximately 90 minutes) (7 p.m. with Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano, Introduction by Jeffrey Vance)
FAUST— Magnificent in its surreal depictions of heaven and hell and a nightmarish otherworldly world, German director F.W. Murnau’s 1926 interpretation of the Faust legend is a hallmark of German Expressionism. It is as boldly distinctive as his other horror masterpiece, Nosferatu. Murnau’s “Faust” draws on Goethe’s classic tale as well as older literary versions to tell the story of a man willing to bargain his soul away to the Devil. Knowledge, lust, power—they fascinate and entrap us all. When Emil Jannings’ wily Mephisto shows up to tempt Faust (Gösta Ekmann), a man of books and learning, with the ability to cure the plague and a 24-hour return to his youthful body, it seems pious Faust has lost his immortal soul. Or has he? Murnau’s use of chiaroscuro effect beautifully contrasts light and dark, life and death; and evil is chillingly limned by Jannings’ brilliantly nuanced, subtly comic performance. If you’ve seen Alexander Sokurov’s completely disturbing and eerie “Faust” (2011), winner of the 2011 Golden Lion at Venice, this silent masterpiece is the one to strike comparisons with. (Approximately 116 minutes) (9:00 pm with Musical Accompaniment by Christian Elliott on the Mighty Wurlitzer)
Silent films remind us of how rich and intense storytelling can be without words. With last year’s 5 Oscar success of Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist,” the joyful black and white tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age, the stage was set for a renewed interest in silent films. “That was definitely a boost,” said Anita Monga, “Hazanavicius set about to make a film that was set in that silent era about the making of a silent film and do it as a silent film. What was interesting was up until the very last moment, you weren’t really so aware that there wasn’t any dialogue. Anytime we can dispel the myth that silent films are deadly boring, it’s a very good thing. Once we get people in the door, we have no problem sharing the wonder of this experience but we’ve got to get them in the door.”
Silent films remind us of how rich and intense storytelling can be without words. With last year’s 5 Oscar success of Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist,” the joyful black and white tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age, the stage was set for a renewed interest in silent films. “That was definitely a boost,” said Anita Monga, “Hazanavicius set about to make a film that was set in that silent era about the making of a silent film and do it as a silent film. What was interesting was, up until the very last moment, you weren’t really so aware that there wasn’t any dialogue. Anytime we can dispel the myth that silent films are deadly boring, it’s a very good thing. Once we get people in the door, we have no problem sharing the wonder of this experience but we’ve got to get them in the door.”
Details: “Silent Winter” is Saturday, February 16, 2012. The Castro Theatre is located at 429 Castro Street, San Francisco. Festival Pass: $70; $50 for San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) members. Individual Tickets: $15.00 adults; $5 children. Buy tickets online here. For information about SFSFF membership, call 415.777.4908 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
San Francisco’s 17th Annual Silent Film Festival: celebrating the silent era with 16 rare gems, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre—opens this Thursday, July 12, 2012
The 17th San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) begins Thursday, July 12, 2012 and runs through Sunday, July 15, 2012, presenting 16 masterpieces from the silent era , all at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. With special guest speakers and live music, every performance is unqiue.
The festival opens Thursday evening with William A. Wellman’s Wings (1927)(141 min) which was meticulously restored for Paramount Pictures’ 100th anniversary, giving silent fans the chance to see the first Oscar winner (for best picture) in all its glory. Featuring groundbreaking aerial dogfights and epic battle sequences, Wings is both a cinematic spectacle and a compelling story of love and sacrifice that effectively dramatizes the bitter price of war. The historic piece of cinema stars Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, and also features Gary Cooper in one of his first feature film roles. Live musical accompaniment is by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Foley effects by Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt. After the film, the festival kicks off with its fabulous opening night party at the McRoskey Mattress Company, which is a short walk from the theatre. Friday, Saturday and Sunday each offer a full day with 5-6 film events, all to live music and the chance to hear experts on film history and restoration talk about specific issues related to each film.
While all the films are special, in addition to it Opening Night Film, Wings, the festival is showcasing two additional films:
Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora)(Germany, 1929, approximately 143 minutes) Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, Carl Götz
Adapted from German playwright Frank Wedekind’s Lulu plays, Pandora’s Box is the pinnacle of German expressionism and one of the great films of all time. Director Pabst cast the luminous Louise Brooks as the amoral Lulu, a young woman who bewitches everyone who comes within her sphere—men and women alike—with her uninhibited persona and sexuality. David Thomson wrote, “When she played Lulu in Pandora’s Box, Louise Brooks created more than a character: she set the precedent for cinematic femmes fatales forever.” Stunning restoration produced by San Francisco-based Angela Holm and David Ferguson. (Accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble. Introduced by David Ferguson, Angela Holm, Vincent Pirozzi) Centerpiece Film: Screens Saturday, July 14, 2012, 7 p.m.
The Cameraman (USA, 1928, approximately 76 minutes) Directed by Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton. Cast: Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin. The genius of Buster Keaton, cinema’s great clown, is on full display in this wonderful comedy about the business of movie making. The film follows Keaton, a sidewalk tintype portrait photographer, as he tries to break into the newsreels to woo the girl of his dreams, Sally (Marceline Day) who works for the MGM newsreels. Keaton famously did his own stunts and The Cameraman is a showcase for his physical virtuosity as well as an enchantingly goofy love story. The Cameraman is the best film Keaton made after signing away his independence to MGM in 1928, a business decision he said was the worst of his life that put a damper on his unique creativity. (Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Introduced by Frank Buxton and Leonard Maltin) Closing Film: Screens Sunday, July 12, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
The annual festival, the largest in the country, is held every July at the Castro Theatre and is sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the artistic, cultural and historic value of silent film.
Stay tuned to ARThound for a review of self-taught Australian photographer Frank Hurley’s South (1919), a masterpiece Hurley filmed as a member of Ernest Shackleton’s famed Antarctic expedition in the Endurance, at the outbreak of World War I. Hurley’s dramatic shots, filmed at great personal risk, stand as hallmarks of documentary photography. Now restored by BFI, with the original tints and toning. South screens Saturday, July 14, 2012, at 5 p.m. Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano, with Paul McGann introducing the film and reading Shackleton’s letters to Horne’s elegiac score.
Details: SFSFFruns Thursday, July 12, 2012 through Sunday, July 15, 2012 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $14 to $20; $180 to $215 for passes. Click here to purchase all tickets and passes. Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org
Parking Alert: If you plan on coming by car, street parking is the only parking available. Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.