ARThound looks at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Sunday line-up
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival wraps this Sunday with a program worth devoting the entire day to. The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands and old customs is always a huge draw. This year, they have outdone themselves. Victor Sjöström’s The Outlaw and His Wife (1918), newly restored by the Swedish Film Institute, and German director Friedrich Zelnik’s The Weavers (1927), based on actual weaver uprisings of 1892, are both screening on Sunday afternoon. And just before The Weavers, the festival is gifting the audience with a screening of Aleksander Rodchenko’s newly discovered short trailer for Dziga Vertov’s The Eleventh Year (1928), along with the world premiere of the musical score performed by Beth Custer and Ken Winokur. Sunday afternoon also includes the world premiere of the restoration of Emory Johnson’s The Last Editon (1925), focused around the San Francisco Chronicle and featuring rich historical footage of San Francisco. The day begins and ends with two classic comedies—in the morning, Kings of Silent Comedy is a delightful pastiche of comedy clips featuring the titans of the silent era and, at 9 p.m., the festival close with Safety Last! (1923) featuring Harold Lloyd, one of the masters of silent-era comedy.
The Outlaw and His Wife (Berg-Ejvind och Hans Hhustru) (Sweden, 1918, ~105 min)
Adapted from a play by Johann Sigurjonson, director Victor Sjöström’s Berg-Ejvind och Hans Hhustru is one of Swedish cinema’s first major films. The 1918 silent drama features dramatic footage of vast expanses of wild nature and is one of the finest examples of Sigurjonson’s life-long exploration of the theme of spirituality’s connection to nature and the elements. It is also hailed as a work of remarkable psychological complexity, which had a strong influence on the work of Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer. It stars Victor Sjöström (Bergman’s Wild Strawberries) as Berg-Eyvind, a drifter who begins working on the farm of a generous and extremely self-sufficient widow named Halla (Edith Erastoff). The couple falls in love only to have it revealed that Berg-Eyvind is a thief on the run. When a jealous rival alerts authorities to Eyvind’s true identity, the lovers escape together into the mountains of Iceland where they manage to eke-out a rather enviable existence until they are discovered by another fugitive and the story takes a very dark turn. “The film is incredible love story that takes place in a beautiful vista and it’s based on an old Icelandic tale, with amazing cinematography and story,” said SFSFF director Anita Monga. “It just had its premiere last week at Il Cinema Ritrovato, the Bologna Film Festival, and now it’s here for its second-ever screening after its restoration.” The Matti Bye Ensemble from Sweden provides musical accompaniment. (Screens Sunday, July 20, at 1 p.m.)
The Weavers (Die Weber) (Germany, 1927, ~ 97 min)
Friedrich Zelnik’s The Weavers is based on the 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptman dramatizing a Silesian cotton weavers uprising of 1844. The film was once known as the German Potemkin. It is a high budget German drama focused on class struggle, a subject matter that resonated closely with epic works of Soviet cinema. The film has a strong sense of drama and tragedy and shows the poor workers being exploited by the rich manufacturers and the devastation which ensues when the crowd degrades into a mob which destroys the textile magnate’s manor and proceeds to break the textile machines which threaten the traditional livelihood of the weavers. Some of the workers refuse to participate in the revolt but are harmed nonetheless. Its creators downplayed its radical message, but The Weavers resonated with viewers in 1927 whose social reality reflected a chasm between rich and poor. “This is a very rousing film,” said Anita Monga. The incident itself had a major impact throughout the world and it was a touchstone for Marx and Engels writing the Communist Manifesto
The excellent 2012 restoration, by F. W. Murnau Stiftung and Transit Film GmbH, showcases the work of the great graphic designer George Grosz, from his animal vignettes in the opening credit sequence and continuing with the animated graphic design of the intertitles which goes further than in Metropolis: there is a 3D mobile approach to certain key sentences which become moving lettrist vignettes. The standoff scene between the revolutionary crowd and the police and military are epic. Musical accompaniment is by the acclaimed Günter Buchwald, the director of the Silent Movie Music Company and conductor of the Freiburg Filmharmonic Orchestra, which he founded in 1992. Buchwald has incorporated a very Brechtian folksong into the accompaniment. (Screens Sunday, July 20, at 6 p.m.)
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. (For ARThound’s previous coverage of this, click here.)
The Last Edition (USA, 1925, 105 min)
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. 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 was a collaboration between the archive, Eye Film Institute Netherlands and the film festival. Leading silent film accompanist Stephen Horne will be on piano. (Screens Sunday, July 21, 3:30 p.m.)
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.
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