ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with silent golden oldies and live music

Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine in Paul Leni’s drama, “The Man Who Laughs” (1928) which opens the 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival, on Wednesday. Newly restored by SFSFF and Universal Pictures, the film will be accompanied by Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, making their fifth appearance at the festival. The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 30-June 3 at the Castro Theatre.  Image: Universal Studios

One of those old adages worth its weight in gold is “To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.”  The pre-sound era produced some of the most beautiful and engaging films ever made, shedding light on societies that were changing rapidly.  If you’ve never experienced a silent film the way it was meant to be seen—on the big screen, with the correct speed and formatting and with riveting live music—it’s high time!  Silent film might just be the experience you’ve been waiting for.

On Wednesday, May 30, the 23rd edition of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) kicks off with 23 programs pairing silent-era films with live musical accompaniment, including eleven recent film restorations.  Ten of those restorations will make their North American premieres and four are SFSFF projects.  Nine countries are represented this year.  What makes SFSFF particularly wonderful is its top rate live accompaniment by more than 40 musicians (soloists and groups) from all around the globe.  These musicians serve as conductor, arranger and accompanist melding film, music, theater and art into one.  It all takes place at San Francisco’s historical Castro Theatre, May 30-June 3, 2018.

The festival kicks off Wednesday evening with Universal Pictures and SFSFF’s new restoration of Paul Leni’s 1928 “The Man Who Laughs”.  Considered one of the treasures of the silent era, the film is based on Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel, but set two centuries earlier.  The story involves an orphan, Gwynplaine, who is captured by outlaws who use a knife to carve his face into a hideous permanent grin.  Disfigured and all alone, he rescues a baby girl and they are raised together by a fatherly vaudevillian. Everything centers on Gwynplaine’s extraordinary wide grin which inspired the Joker character in the original Batman comic books.  This presentation also marks the world premiere of a commissioned score by Berklee College of Music’s Silent Film Orchestra.

 

Sally O’Neil and Buster Keaton in a scene from Buster Keaton’s 1926 comedy, “Battling Butler,” SFSFF’s closing night film.  Still: courtesy Cohen Film Collection.

Closing the festival on Sunday, June 3, is the North American premiere of Cineteca di Bologna’s restoration (in collaboration with Cohen Film Collection) of Buster Keaton’s 1926 “Battling Butler,” which will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Keaton considered this sparkling comedy his personal favorite among his works.

Recently, I had my annual interview with Anita Monga, SFSFF’s insightful artistic director who programs the festival.  She decides what films will be included, how they are ordered and the rhythm and flow of the weekend.  With her guidance, I put together an overview of the festival.

 

Cinematography buff?

A still from “Fragment of an Empire”.  Image: courtesy SFSFF

The Russian film by Fridrikh Ermler, Fragment of an Empire(Oblomok Imperii)(1929) (Sunday, June 3, 5:30p.m.) is virtually unknown and has an unforgettable opening.  The film is a portrait of a soldier who loses his memory during WWI and returns home to St. Petersburg, a place of heart-wrenching change.  He gains back his memory after seeing his wife on a train but later learns she has remarried.  The cinematography enforces the cold psychology of the revolution, the state of human condition, the rapid pace of modernism.  SFSFF worked on the complete restoration with EYE Filmmuseum, and Gosfilmofond of Russia), based on materials preserved by EYE Filmmuseum and Cinémathèque Suisse.  This rarely-screened-in-America film only existed in chunks with some very famous scenes, like its image of Christ on the cross with a gas mask on.

Friday’s 2 pm Silent Avant-Garde program presents early American Avant-garde films from 1894-1941 and has some amazing images. “Everything in the Unseen Cinema collection is fascinating,” said Anita Monga. “The Slavo Vorkapich montage (four rare segments) took my breath away.” For the look of film on film, Monga recommends Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1925 “Master of the House” (DU SKAL ÆRE DIN HUSTRU) screening Thursday at 2:45 p.m..

 

Arm chair traveler?

Seeta Devi (L) and Himansu Rai in a scene from “A Throw of Dice”.  Image: courtesy British Film Institute

Sunday’s “A Throw of Dice” (Prapancha Pash) from 1929, the third collaboration between German director Franz Osten and Indian film producer Himansu Rai, was shot entirely in Rajasthan, India with a cast of over 10,000.  Inspired by one of India’s masterpieces, the Sanskrit poem The Mahabarata, it tells the story of two kings vying for the hand of a young woman.  A game of dice and a desperate gamble play into the story.  It provides a unique vision of Indian life and is extraordinary in its presentation of wild nature: elephants, tigers, snakes, monkeys, birds and riversides and jungles with plush fauna.  It also has extravagant palaces, teeming streets and gorgeous costumes.

 

A scene from “People on Sunday” (Menschen am Sonntag). Still: courtesy Janus Films

If you are interested in seeing what Berlin street activity was like in the 1930’s, Thursday evening’s “People on Sunday” (Menshcen am Sonntag) was shot entirely on the streets on Berlin. It was created by a group of young filmmakers who would go on to become famous—Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnermann. Their idea was to create a film without actors and they went out on the streets and started filming.  “It really skirts fiction and documentary and captures the feel of life in Berlin in that moment, just on the cusp before the world would change,” said Monga.  “All of the Weimar titles are so devastating because we know what is about to happen in Germany.” (Screens Thursday, may 31, 7:15 p.m.)

 

Takeshi Sakamoto in a scene from Yasujirô Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo (Tokyo no yado). Still: courtesy Janus Films

On Thursday at 5:15 p.m., Yasujirô Ozu’s poetic “An Inn in Tokyo” (Tôkyô No Yado), from 1935, is an expressive portrait of industrial pre-war Tokyo framed by Hideo Shigehara’s amazing cinematography.  A single father (the great Takeshi Sakamoto who starred in over 100 Japanese films) is struggling with his two sons as he tries his best to find work.  As they wander the streets of the Koto district, he has his sons catch stray dogs for cash.  The film addresses the essence of family and the dignity of an ordinary individual in crisis, Ozu’s forte.

Ozu made silent films well into the mid-1930’s, several years after sound was available.  He did this because of the prevalence of Japanese “benshi” performers who stood right next to the screen and interpreted the action for the audience, taking on all the characters’ roles and creating entertaining dialogue.

 

1906 SF Quake junkie?

An image from the short “San Francisco 1906” showing people looking at the debris and wreckage left behind from the earthquake.  Some 8,655 frames of found footage were photographed with a digital camera and then cleaned up and made back into a film.  Image: courtesy Jason Wright

If you’re fascinated with post-earthquake footage of 1906 San Francisco, you can’t miss the 10 minute short,“San Francisco 1906,” newly found earthquake footage that SFSFF has restored.  It will be shown on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. when it screens with the lovely Italian film from 1922, Eugenio Perego’s “Trappola”.   The footage was found in 2017 at the Alemany flea market in fragile condition and is thought to be one of the longest surviving segments of the lost Miles Brothers’ film.   The Miles Brothers produced and directed numerous films in the early 20th century. Their 13-minute film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” explored pre-quake Market Street and was shot on April 14, 1906.  Their studio was destroyed by a post-earthquake fire on April 18, 1906, along with many of their films.

“This is essentially the same sort of footage that the brothers shot when they made “A Trip Down Market Street,” said Monga. “We make the familiar trip down Market towards the ferry building.  The buildings are now in rubble. When the people get to the ferry plaza, you see all the horse-drawn carriages and understand that the people are there to escape to East Bay.”

 

Gaga for Garbo?

Greta Garbo in her first starring role in 1924 in “The Saga of Gösta Berling”.  Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

Saturday evening delivers Greta Garbo in 1924, in her first starring role in the great Swedish director, Mauritz Stiller’sThe Saga of Gösta Berling” (Gösta Berlings Saga) with live accompaniment from the Matti Bye Ensemble.  Garbo is radiant opposite Lars Hansen in this romantic drama. Jon Wengström from the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) will accept the 2018 Silent Film Festival Award at this premiere screening of SFI’s beautiful new restoration which was completed earlier this year and adds 16 minutes to the previous version and restores the film’s original tinting scheme.

 

Love Freebies?

Film preservationist and SFSFF board president Robert Byrne collaborates with film archives around the world. He and SFSFF colleague, Russell Merritt, will share the story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” from 1929, the last silent Sherlock Holmes’ film, considered the most important Hound produced in Europe.  (screening on Saturday). Image: courtesy SFSFF

Thursday morning’s Amazing Tales from the Archives, is a free program in keeping with the festival’s education mandate, which flies in experts from the world’s top restoration facilities to share their personal experiences in breathing life back into critically damaged nitrate.  This year’s guests are Deutsche Kinemathek’s Martin Koerber and Weimar film scholar Cynthia Walk, who will talk about the complete reworking of E.A. Dupont’s “The Ancient Law” (screening on Sunday); Davide Pozzi from L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, whose Kinemacolor presentation will examine the first successful color process for motion pictures; and Elzbieta Wysocka of Filmoteka Narodowa, with SFSFF’s Robert Byrne and Russell Merritt, will share the detective story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” which screens on Saturday.

 

Details: 

SFSFF is May 30-June 3, 2018 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.  Visit http://www.silentfilm.org/ for tickets, festival passes, and detailed information on films and musicians.  Advance ticket purchase is essential and most screenings are $17 to $24.  If you are driving in, allow an additional hour to secure parking.

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May 28, 2018 Posted by | Chamber Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Parfum de Blanche,” ARThound’s new Lavender Rose from the Celebration of Old Roses

Parfum de Blanche, a spectacular lavender Hybrid Tea bred by Ted Liggitt. Photo: Geneva Anderson

I am drawn to lavender roses and always searching for “the one.”  The right lavender can be calming, healing, inspiring.  Prior to today, the closest I’d come was “Blue Girl”, a classic hybrid tea of confusing parentage that produces lavender-blue, longish buds that develop into upright, large, full, deliciously fragrant booms.  I live in zone 9b and, once established, “Blue Girl” produces continually.  The problem: it lacks pizazz.

At today’s Celebration of Old Roses, sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group Bay Area (HRGBA), I met rosarian Tom Liggitt and fell hook, line and sinker for his “Parfum de Blanche,”  a silvery lavender rose with a wonderful form and heady fruity fragrance.  I came home with a gallon size plant that has about a half dozen roses in various stages of bloom.  I’ve posted some pics.  While it has some road wear from being hauled all over the Bay Area and being in a small pot, I can’t wait to nurture this baby to full health and see how those glorious blooms hold up in the vase.  What I love about Blanche is its ruffled petals and silvery hues which range from a rosy mauve lavender in bud to a silvery gray with slight pinkish hues at the center when in full bloom.  Blanche is a substantial rose, a star, that begs you to cup it in your hands and inhale.  And when you do, a world opens up, an old, romantic world.

“Parfum de Blanche,” bred by Ted Liggitt.

Liggitt, the founder of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, describes his passion as “non-stop plant research.”  He brought several flats of his roses in bands and gallon pots to sell today and was moving them quickly to rose addicts like me who will always find room for another rose.  Liggitt is especially proud of “Parfum de Blanche.”  Over the years, he worked with some 3,000 variants of the famous lavender rose “Lagerfield” (grandiflora, Jack Christensen, 1986) and boiled them down to three superstars, one of which is “Parfum de Blanche.”  His gorgeous roses went unnamed for 15 years until he met and married Blanche, the only woman worthy of naming his roses after.  Blanche was at his side today helping usher her namesakes on to their forever homes.

May 20, 2018 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The annual “Celebration of Old Roses” is Sunday, May 20 and has moved to Albany

Monsieur Tillier, a tea rose that repeats several times and has a remarkable color—salmon and peachy shades of pink blended with deeper pinks that change over the course of its bloom. The result is an ever-changing spectrum of lush color. Dozens of heritage roses will be on display at the annual “Celebration of Old Roses” in Albany, on Sunday, May 20. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Whether they climb a fence, or explode on their own with gorgeous sprays of colorful and fragrant blooms, old roses are a source of pure delight. And in April and May, they are in all their glory. With names that run the gamut from “Baron Girod d l’Ain,” to “Ispahan” to “Tuscany,” heritage roses evoke history and poetry.  Rose lovers will get their fix this Sunday at the annual Celebration of Old Roses, sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group Bay Area (HRGBA).  This annual spring event is one of the few remaining places where we can see, smell, talk, and purchase old roses.  It takes place this Sunday at the Albany Veteran’s Memorial Building from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Officially, old roses, or antique roses, are varieties that date from 1860 or earlier.  Devotees praise their colors, their rich and varied fragrances and their graceful growth habits which make them ideal for the garden. Once established, many are drought tolerant too, so in these times when many are culling plants to save water, an old rose can make sense.  For those unable to have a rose garden at this time, the Albany event is a chance to see dozens of roses without the responsibility of ownership.  Much like a delightful old-fashioned country fair, people gather round to ohh and ahh its focal point—a 100-foot plus display of freshly picked old roses in old-fashioned mason jars, all in glorious states of bloom.  The roses are organized by class—gallicas, centifolias, damasks, mosses, hybrid Chinas, bourbons, Portlands, teas, eglantines, floribundas and others.   There is ample opportunity to explore the nuances of each variety—fragrance, color, size, petal count, foliage and growth habit.

Bright crimson pinstripes and slashes that age to purple velvet on a blush to creme ground make the annual bloom of the hybrid bourbon, Variagata di Bologna (1909), worth the wait. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In addition to the display and sale of old roses, rose experts who have made it their mission to save and perpetuate this diverse group of plants will be on hand to answer questions.

Have a rose that you can’t identify?   Just put a complete cutting (full bloom, bud and some foliage) in a jar and bring it to the event and the experts will try to identify your rose.

Vendors will also be selling rare perennials, rose books, rose greeting cards, and other items inspired by roses.  This year, all children attending the event will receive a free rose plant, courtesy of Tom Liggett and HRGBA.

Blooming just once a year in a profusion of fragrant dark wine-purple cups that are white within, Cardinal de Richelieu is one of the most arresting old roses. While this dark beauty from 1840 exhibits most of the growth habits of a Gallica rose, it is actually a Hybrid China

 

An eglantine rose of simple elegance whose leaves are heavily scented with the fragrance of apple. Eglantines, hybrids of Rosa eglanteria, the old Sweet Briar of Shakespeare, grow vigorously into a wild arching and interlacing sprawl and meld wonderfully into any Mediterranean landscaping plan. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Details: The Celebration of Old Roses, Sunday May 20, 2018, Veteran’s Memorial Building, Albany, 1325 Portland at Carmel, Albany, CA 94706. 11 am to 3:30 p.m.  Free.  If you plan to buy roses or plants, bring cash.  For more information, call Kristina Osborn at The Heritage Rose Group Bay Area (510) 527-3815 or visit http://www.celebrationofoldroses.org

May 18, 2018 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest36: Asian American films paired with conversation, food, music and parties —May 10-24, 2018

Vivian Wu plays fierce beautician Candy Wang whose Facebook page is blocked by the Chinese Communist Party as she takes a tough stance against real estate developers in a scene from Cathy Yan’s debut feature, “Dead Pigs” (2018).  The film screens twice at CAAMFest36,  May 14-24, 2018.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker, will be in attendance at CAAMFest.  Yan was just selected by actor Margot Robbie to direct a “Suicide Squad” sequel film for DC Productions, making Yan the first Asian American woman to direct a big budget Hollywood action film for DC Productions.  Photo: CAAMFest

It’s been exciting to experience CAAMFest, the Center for Asian American Media’s (CAAM) annual film festival, as it has morphed into an extravaganza embracing Asian American film, music, food and dance.  The 36th festival kicked off Thursday, May 10 and runs through Thursday, May 24th.  CAAMFest offers more than 120 films, live performances, music and culinary events.  The second week continues with films in 17 Bay Area venues.

A must-see film is Cathy Yan’s observant and wacky first feature, Dead Pigs (2018, 130 min), which she wrote and directed, screening Sunday, May 20 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.   The film exemplifies the filmmakers and thought-provoking stories that CAAMFest celebrates.  Yan herself is an exciting draw and she will be in attendance at CAAMFest for post-screening conversation.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker has just bashed through a ceiling for women and directors of color in Hollywood.  The Chinese-born American has just been selected by Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment to direct Australian Margot Robbie in a yet-to-be-titled Harley Quinn sequel.  Yan is thus the first Asian-American woman to direct a big budget superhero film for the mega industry powerhouse DC (home to iconic brands such as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash).

Dead Pigs is set in China, between bustling Shanghai and the provincial town of Jiaxing which sits on the Huangpu River about 70 miles from Shanghai.  The fictional story employs sharp storytelling, comedy and is full of surprises.  It takes off on a real incident that occurred in China in spring 2014 when over 7,500 pig carcasses were found floating in the Huangpu River that supplied Shanghai’s drinking water.  The pigs don’t factor heavily in the story-line but they do bob down the river through several scenes, adding all the symbolism that pigs evoke in the Chinese zodiac of marching forward fearlessly.   They aslo set the stage for five very eccentric characters, whose stories ultimately collide—an alcoholic pig farmer (Yang Haoyu) in debt up to his nose to local thugs; a tough-as-nails beautician (Vivian Wu) who refuses to sell her family home and property to developers seeking to cash in on gentrification; a highly-leveraged American businessman (David Rysdahl) who is in win-or-die development deal; a spoiled rich girl (Li Meng) who is hospitalized after crashing into a watermelon stand while driving drunk; and a lowly waiter/bus-boy at a suckling pig restaurant (Wang Zhen Mason Lee) who pretends he has a big career in the city.

With plentiful energy, wit, a skillful use of music, and a crazy ending, Yan takes up a fascinating set of complex topics, weaving a tale of modern China racing forward.   The film premiered in the world dramatic competition at Sundance, where it won the special jury prize for ensemble acting.

Details:  CAAMFest36 is May 10-24, 2018 at 17 Bay Area sites, including AMC Kabuki 8, Asian Art Museum, Castro, New People Cinema and Roxie theaters.  Tickets: $14 to $20 general; $75 for six-pack; more for special events.  Advance ticket purchase highly recommended.  To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.caamfest.com

May 17, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Opera Hour” radio show kicks off Sunday, May 6, 8PM on Classical KDFC with co-hosts SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock and KDFC President Bill Lueth

image: courtesy San Francisco Opera

This Sunday, May 6, at 8 p.m., Classical KDFC will launch “The Opera Hour,” a new opera showcase created by KDFC President Bill Lueth and co-hosted by Lueth and SFO (San Francisco Opera) General Director Matthew Shilvock.  The 60 minute program will air the first Sunday of each month.  It replaces broadcasts of complete SFO performances, celebrating the art form’s continuing vibrancy while reducing the station’s actual allocation of pure opera time.

With something for both longtime opera fans and hoping to draw in the opera curious, in each episode, Shilvock and Lueth will share new recordings of arias, duets and ensembles they are enjoying along with some of their favorites oldies, honoring singers of the past.  The hosts will also highlight opportunities to hear great singing around the Bay Area and dig into the treasure trove of archival SFO broadcasts.  Additionally, Shilvock will take listeners backstage at the War Memorial Opera House and, with special guests, share opera insights.

Details:  Classical KDFC’s The Opera Hour can be heard on the FM dial at 90.3 (San Francisco), 89.9 (Wine Country), 92.5 (Ukiah-Lakeport), 104.9 (Silicon Valley), 103.9 (Santa Cruz and Monterey); on Comcast Cable 981; or online at https://www.kdfc.com/

 

May 5, 2018 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , | Leave a comment