San Francisco’s 18th Annual Silent Film Festival: celebrating the silent era with premieres, restorations and wonderful live music, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre—opens this Thursday, July 18, 2012
The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) begins Thursday, July 17, 2013 and runs through Sunday, July 21, 2013, presenting films from nine countries and 17 programs celebrating the wonder of silent film, all at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. Thursday night, the festival kicks off and Friday, Saturday and Sunday each offer a full day of
5-6 film events, all with live music, making every performance unique. In addition to re-introducing some oft-forgotten talents from cinematic history, the festival brings in experts on film history and restoration to talk about specific issues related to each film so this is a chance to learn about a film’s entire social context while seeing it on the Castro’s big screen.
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.
Thursday: Opening Night Film: PRIX DE BEAUTÉ – France 1930
The festival opens on Thursday with a beautiful new restoration (from the Cineteca di Bologna) of Louise Brooks in her last starring role in Augusto Genina’s Prix de Beauté. Less known than her work with G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl), Prix de Beauté was marred by its less-than-successful foray into early sound (Brooks’s voice was dubbed). The San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation is the superior silent version recently restored in Bologna. Brooks is stunning as Lucienne, the “every girl” typist who enters a beauty contest and is introduced to a shiny world of fame and modernity. But Prix’s script, a collaboration between René Clair and G.W. Pabst, doesn’t leave Lucienne in a fairy tale bubble but leads to a powerful, moving denouement. Cinematographers Rudolph Maté and Louis Née make beautiful use of Brooks’s glorious face. Accompanying the film will be world-renowned pianist (and festival favorite) Stephen Horne who has a special musical surprise in store for viewers at the end of the film.
Opening Night Party: After the film, at 9 p.m., the SFSFF 2013 kicks off with its fabulous opening night party at the McRoskey Mattress Company, a short walk from the theatre. There will be drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the Frisky Frolics, and the first-ever SF Silent Film Festival Beauty Contest and a raffle for a chance to win a $3000 shopping spree! (Drawing will be held on Closing Night.) Wear your best 1910s – 1920s-inspired Glad Rags and parade in front of a panel of Celebrity Judges for fabulous prizes including the Grand Prize of a Styling Consultation with Artful Gentleman! Whether you raid your closet or arrive in your newest acquisition, everyone is eligible.
Friday: Into the 1920’s bedroom, THE FIRST BORN –UK 1928
Miles Mander, famous for his moustache, has his directorial debut and stars in a film that was adapted from his own play The First Born, a tale of philandering politician Hugo Boycott (Mander), and his young wife Madeleine (played by Madeleine Carroll). Unable to have a child, their marriage is strained, so in desperation Madeleine attempts to dupe him into believing that someone else’s baby is his own. Set in a British upper-class milieu and touching on morality, politics, and the disintegration of a marriage, the film present’s a fascinating glimpse back in time as well as exceptionally rich characters. The screenplay was co-written by Alma Reville, most known today as Hitchcock’s wife, but someone who had already established herself in the industry before her husband picked up a camera. Musician Stephen Horne, who has accompanied the film several times before and wrote a full score for the BFI’s restoration gala screening in London in 2011, will perform. The film screens Friday, July 19, at 2 p.m.
Saturday: A Brand New Restoration of THE HALF-BREED – USA 1916
On Saturday, July 20th at Noon, the Festival will premiere a brand new restoration of a “lost” Douglas Fairbanks film, The Half-Breed—the result of a partnership between the Cinémathèque française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The great Allan Dwan directed this western drama set amongst the redwoods and filmed in part near Boulder Creek (with Victor Fleming behind the camera). Based on a story by Bret Harte and adapted by Anita Loos, The Half-Breed stars Douglas Fairbanks as Lo Dorman, a half-Indian outcast from society, who lives in the forest and makes his home in a hollow tree. The coquettish pastor’s daughter (Jewel Carmen) toys with his affections, but it is Teresa (Alma Reuben) on the run from the law, who shares Lo’s status as an outsider. Founder and conductor of the Freiburg Filmharmonic Orchestra, Günter Buchwald will accompany The Half-Breed on the Castro’s Mighty Wurlitzer.
Saturday: sensational restoration THE JOYLESS STREET – Germany 1925
Not only one of the most important films of Weimar-era Germany, The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse) is also one of the most spectacular censorship cases of the era. The story from the inflationary period in Vienna in the years immediately after World War I was considered too much of a provocation with its juxtaposition of haves and have nots and its frank sexuality. G.W. Pabst’s film was twice shortened by the German censors and other countries made cuts or outright banned the film. This painstaking restoration, supervised by Stefan Drössler for Filmmuseum München, has reconstructed the film as close as possible to Pabst’s intention. “Tons of research went into trying to figure out what the original film actually was,” explained Anita Monga. “It is not completely clear because this film was circulated around to different countries that received different parts and versions due to censorship, so the issues of continuity and what belonged and what didn’t was a huge challenge. The Munich archive did extensive research and gathered materials from around the world and put together what they feel is the most comprehensive restoration of the film, making it longer but also what we feel is the most complete version. In terms of the acting, the film has the Danish actress, Asta Nielsen, who was huge, an international star who made over 70 films in Germany but she’s not well known in the States because her work was considered too erotic and was heavily censored in the U.S. And there’s Garbo. Her performance in Gosta Berling’s Saga (1924), which really launched her career, caught the eye of Pabst who then brought her in to this film, where she is wonderful. This was just her second feature performance which occurred just before she left Europe for Hollywood in 1925.” The Joyless Street will play Saturday, July 20th at 8:30 PM. The extraordinary Matti Bye Ensemble will perform their original score to accompany The Joyless Street.
Sunday: a story set around our own San Francisco Chronicle THE LAST EDITION – USA 1925
One of the few surviving films created by Emory Johnson in the mid-1920’s, The Last Edition stars veteran actor Ralph Lewis as a pressman at the San Francisco Chronicle who has been denied a well-deserved promotion by his boss, publisher Jerome Hamilton (Louis Payne). The film’s last known screening was on November 28, 1930, in Utrecht, the Netherlands, so Sunday’s premiere of its new restoration is a cause for celebration. For those with an interest in history in San Francisco history, this gem is filmed on location in and around the Chronicle pressroom with major footage of Market Street, Civic Center and Mission Street and includes a thrilling car chase throughout the City as newsmen valiantly tackle the forces of corruption. The film was unearthed in an archive in the Netherlands two years ago and was in poor condition due to having been shot on highly-degradable nitrate film. Its painstaking two-year restoration is a collaboration between the archive, Eye Film Institute Netherlands and the film festival. Leading silent film accompanist Stephen Horne will be on piano to accompany the screening of this film Sunday, July 21st at 3:30 PM.
Sunday: Aleksander Rodchenko’s newly discovered trailer for Dziga Vertov’s THE ELEVENTH YEAR with the world premiere of the musical score performed by Beth Custer and Ken Winokur
Ken Winokur of the Alloy Orchestra made an amazing discovery while the orchestra was traveling in the Ukraine—a two-minute trailer for Dziga Vertov’s THE ELEVENTH YEAR, created by famed Constructivist artist Aleksander Rodchenko. As a special gift to San Francisco, Winokur and Beth Custer will perform the World Premiere of their score accompanying Vertov’s trailer on Sunday, July 21, just before the 6 p.m. screening of THE WEAVERS.
Winokur describes his find:
In May of this year, while traveling in the Ukraine with Alloy Orchestra, I had the great pleasure of visiting the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Centre (the Ukrainian National Film Archive). Located in a building that once, during the Soviet Era, housed a massive film processing lab, the archive has rapidly developed into an impressive collection of films, particularly films of the Ukraine. The curators at the archive seem to have a special interest in silent films, and also run the Mute Nights, Silent Film festival, every June in Odessa Ukraine.
Shortly before leaving the archive, curator Stas Menzelevskyi, beckoned me to look at a film he had on his computer. He explained that it was a trailer for the Dziga Vertov film THE ELEVENTH YEAR, and that it is believed to be animated and directed by Aleksander Rodchenko, a noted graphic designer and one of the founders of the Constructivist movement in the Soviet Union. I was stunned! This 2 minute film is like nothing I have ever seen from the silent era. Swirling circles, and dancing stick figures—the film looks more like something from the summer of love in San Francisco than a film from the 1920s.
Stay tuned to ARThound for more festival coverage
Details: The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival is July 18-21, 2013 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Festival passes are available at McRoskey Mattress Company (1687 Market St., S.F.) and online at www.silentfilm.org. Tickets: $15 to $25 for parties; $185 to $220 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.
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