ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

At San Francisco’s 21st Silent Film Festival, Something for Everyone─through Sunday

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

With the proliferation of film festivals in the Bay Area, each offering an overwhelming selection, it’s hard to feel that any one of them is really that special.  Here’s one that truly is.  The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), now in its 21st year, which kicked off Thursday at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Sunday.  This long weekend of silents is the country’s top silent festival and people come from all over the world to experience its magic.  This is silent film as it was meant to be seen─on the big screen with live musical accompaniment and informative introductions by experts and with an enthusiastic audience.  This year’s festival offers a treasure trove of discoveries, rediscoveries and restorations─18 full-length feature films from all over the world.  And on Sunday, there’s a dazzling Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema program, curated by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, that will present exquisite clips of hand painting, dyeing and stencil coloring from another 15 early short color films. 

This year, there is an emphasis on film restoration.   “We’ve gradually been dipping our toe into film restoration,” said festival director Anita Monga.  “Now, we’re actually participating in restoration efforts.  Our board president, Rob Byrne graduated from the EYE Film Institute’s preservation program and now he’s an itinerant restoration guy.  This year, we have five films that we have been directly involved in restoring─René Clair’s (The Italian Straw Hat (Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie)(1928) and his Les Deux Timides (1928) both in partnership with the Cinémathèque Française; Irvin Willat’s Behind the Door (1919) in collaboration with the Library of Congress and Gosfilmofond of Russia; the hilarious 1926 Richard Wallace short film, What’s the World Coming To? in collaboration with Carleton University and New York University.  This film is part of our Sunday program on early cross-dressing Girls Will be Boys.  Finally, there’s Willis Robards’ 1917 suffrage film, Mothers of Men, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, the British Film Institute, and film archivist James Mockoski.”

The Festival’s wonderful historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling keeps me coming back year after year.  When you see these films, you actually forget they’re silent and become engrossed in the wonderful stories. And the enthusiastic and well informed audience is an added bonus.  Do plan ahead: battling the traffic to get into the City and then to find parking is a huge a factor in the decision to attend an event or not.  I recommend choosing one day on the weekend and coming in for two or three films.  On Sunday, you can park on most streets in the Castro in one spot for the entire day without having to reload your meter or move your car.  On Saturday, you’re off the clock after 6PM. 

Highlights of this year’s festival include:

Saturday, June 4, 12:00 PM  The Strongest (Den starkaste)

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season's seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship "Viking." Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season’s seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship “Viking.” Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Saturday, June 4, 5:15 PM  Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates

A scene from Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1920), the earliest surviving film made by an African American director. The film explores racism and stereotypes as it follows an African American woman who goes North to raise money for a school in the rural South . Her romance with a black doctor eventually leads to revelations about her family’s past and her own European, mixed-race ancestry. The film is a direct refutation of DW Griffith’s 1915 racist epic, “The Birth of a Nation.” Oakland Symphony conductor Michael Morgan will conduct Adolphus Hailstork’s special musical score that was commissioned for last September’s “Birth of an Answer” (BOAA) event in Virginia which celebrated African American responses to Griffith’s film. Seven string players and 22 members of the chorus from the Oakland Symphony will perform. Image: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society.

 

Sunday, June 5, 10:00 AM Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

 

Full 2016 Festival Schedule

Details: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs Thursday, June 2, 2016 through Sunday, June 5, 2016 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $16 to $20; click here to purchase tickets.  Festival Pass $190 for Silent Film Festival members and $225 general.  Click here to purchase 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 near the Castro Theatre.  Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.

 

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June 2, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment