Geneva Anderson digs into art

Silent Winter—a full day of silent film masterpieces, with live music—at the Castro Theatre, Saturday February 16, 2013

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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 .

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival showcases the best new films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, starts next Thursday, September 27, 2012

Christian’s Petzold’s “Barbara,” opens the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival at the historic Castro Theatre, September 27-Ocotber 4, 2012. Set in East Germany in 1980, and starring Nina Hoss, the film is the German contender for this year’s Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film. Image courtesy: Hans Fromm.

For film lovers in the Bay Area, the annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival is an essential—it’s where one goes to see the very best new films by German, Austrian and Swiss directors and the crème of the crop of international collaborations from directors working beyond these borders.  The focus is Germany and German language but it’s the exceptional storytelling, intense drama and highly cinematic nature of the films, and the complete abandonment of Hollywood special effects, that make this relatively small scale festival such a stand-out in the myriad of festivals that are cropping up everywhere.  The festival will mark its 17th season with a dazzling roster of special guests onstage and will screen 26 feature length films and 6 shorts, including four North American premieres and three US premieres. It will pay special tribute to legendary stage and screen star Mario Adorf with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in acting.  Mr. Adorf will be present at the festival to receive the award and will appear in person for two films of his four-film tribute.  It all begins next Thursday, September 27, and runs through October 4, 2012, in San Francisco at the historic Castro Theatre, with additional screenings at the Goethe-Institut SF (530 Bush Street).

The festival will mark its 17th season with a dazzling roster of special guests onstage.  It will pay special tribute to legendary stage and screen star Mario Adorf with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in acting.  Mr. Adorf will be present at the festival to receive the award and will appear in person for two films of his four-film tribute. Also attending are Alina Levshin, the German Ukranian star of David Wendt’s Combat Girls (Kriegerin) which screens Wednesday October 3 and won Best Film (Bronze), Best Screenplay and Best Actress in the 2012 German Film Awards, and sensational directors Veit Helmer and Anno Saul and many more.  Stay tuned to ARThound for coverage.

Festival Highlights:

Opening Night: On Thursday, September 27th, the festival’s Opening Night screens Berlin school writer/director Christian Petzold’s Barbara, winner of both the 2012 Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Director and the 2012 German Film Award’s Best Film.  This masterful period film is set in the very restrictive GDR in the 1980’s and stars Nina Hoss in a brilliantly nuanced performance as an accomplished doctor in East Berlin’s largest clinic who has been transferred to a rural medical clinic following her application for an exit visa to the West where she hoped to join her lover Jörg (Mark Waschke).  She is forced to choose between personal freedom and saving the lives of others and her growing affection for André (Ronald Zehrfeld), her new supervisor.  Barbara is Germany’s entry to the Academy Awards Best Foreign Film category.

Director Christain Petzold is Germany’s most acclaimed director (Yella (2007), Jerichow (2008), Dreileben (2001) a key figure in the Berlin School and he’s from the former GDR, meaning he nails the physical details and psychological ambiance with authenticity.  His camerawork is exceptional too in enforcing the drama—the camera is held just below eyelevel throughout most of the film and the scenes meld into one another.  His collaboration with Hoss began in 2003 with Something To Remind Me; two years later she appeared in his Wolfsburg, for which she won the Adolf Grimme Award; in 2007, she starred in his Yella, winning the Silver Bear for Best Actress in 2007 and the German Film Award in 2008.  In Barbara, Petzold gives her a challenging role he created especially for her, while capturing her regal and haunting beauty against a backdrop that is austere but vividly humanized by his own history. You’ll probably be able to see Barbara screening elsewhere in the Bay Area several months later but nothing beats seeing a film early in a setting like the Castro.

Following the screening, the Opening Night party begins 9:15 PM on Castro’s beloved Mezzanine, where film fans are invited to celebrate the start of another great year with delicious German beer and wine and delectable amuse-bouche.

Legendary German actor Mario Adorf (left) stars in “The Rhino and the Dragonfly,” which has its world premiere at the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival. Adorf will receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Acting on Friday, September 28, 2012. Image: NFP/COIN Film.

Mario Adorf Tribute:  New German Cinema is unthinkable without the legendary German actor Mario Adorf.  In addition to The Tin Drum (1978) and Lola (1981), Adorf was integral to Roland Klick’s Deadlock (1970), Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975), Reinhard Hauff’s The Main Character (1977), and the omnibus movie Germany in Autumn (1978).  Adorf has played more than 200 roles in cinema and television and the tally of directors he has worked with reads like a hit list of world cinema: Sam Peckinpah, Franco Rossi, Wolfgang Staudte, Edgar Reitz, Billy Wilder, Helmut Dietl, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Claude Chabrol and Sergio Corbucci and Volker Schlöndorff.

The festival will honor Adorf with a lifetime achievement award in acting at the international and North American premiere screening of his most recent film The Rhino and the Dragonfly (2012) directed by Loal Randl, on Friday, September 28th at 6:15PM.  It will screen three more of his classics—the recently released director’s cut of The Tin Drum (Saturday Sept 29th, 8:45PM), Ship of the Dead (Friday, Sept 28th, 4:30PM) and Lola (Tuesday, Oct 2nd, 6:00PM).  Mr. Adorf participate in a Q&A following the special screening of The Tin Drum.  Berlin & Beyond’s Lifetime Achievement Award was last given to Wim Wenders in 2009.  This is the first time Mr. Adorf has been honored at a major US Festival.

The Late Show:  Alexander Sokurov’s Faust, winner of the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Film Festival screens Friday at 9 PM.  The Russian director is most known for his historical feature film, Russian Ark (2002), which made a big splash at 2002 Cannes Film Fesitval and was filmed entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum and was a single 96-minute continuous unedited shot.

Alexander’s Sokurov’s “Faust” screens Friday, September 28, 2012, at the 17th Berlin and Beyond Film Festival. The psychologically jolting film won the prestigious Golden Lion at the 2011 Venice Film Festival and retells Goethe’s classic fable with some hellish twists. Image: courtesy Films Boutique

Faust is the fourth and final film in his mesmerizing tetralogy of films about the evil that is borne out of too much power and it follows Moloch (1999) about Hitler, Taurus (2001) about Lenin, and The Sun (2004) about Emperor Hirohito.  The psychologically jolting Faust stars the Austrian Johannes Zeiler as Faust and Russian Anton Adasinskiy as an utterly creepy and misshapen pawnbroker/Mephistopheles and retells Goethe’s classic fable with some hellish twists that will have you experiencing disturbing flashbacks for days.  The obsessive and impoverished Dr. Faust hungers for knowledge about the human soul and dissects human corpses in a futile attempt to its locus.  When he falls in love with a beautiful young woman, Margarete (Isolda Dychauk), he grows obsessed and cuts a deal with the moneylender, signing over his soul to possess her.  Sokurov’s distinctive visual mark is his sepia-bathed cinematography and stunning lighting and it’s present in spades here.  What he’s chosen to emphasize though isn’t pretty—the film opens with a full on shot of a corpse’s penis and heaps of entrails and, from there, takes us straight into the highly unsanitary 16th century.  But it is Faust’s extreme loneliness and his desire for connection that grips us and we accompany him on this sick hallucinatory eternal journey crafted so impeccably by Sokurov.  The existential film is a dark meditation on many things but Sokurov takes a few jabs at Germany.  If you’re going to see it, take someone along to process it with afterwards…it will help.

Centerpiece Screening:  The Festival’s Centerpiece screening, Baikonur (2011), Veit Helmer’s newest comedy, is about a young Kazakh man obsessed with outer space and with a beautiful French space traveler whose capsule crash lands in a field in Khazakstan near his yurt.  The rest unfolds like a fairy tale in the countryside—he carries the unconscious beauty to his yurt and wakens her with a kiss but she has amnesia and isn’t herself when she agrees to marry him.  Helmer will appear at the festival for a Q&A about the largely Kazakh production, which proceeds in Russian and English. (Screens Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 6:15 PM)

Marten Persiel’s “This Ain’t California” is the closing film of the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival. The documentary looks at the underground skater culture in East Germany in the 1980’s. Director Persiel and Producer Ronald Vietz will attend the screening, which is also the film’s California premiere. Image courtesy: Harald Schmitt.

Closing Night Film:  Marten Persiel’s This Ain’t California (2012) was a big success at the 2012 Berlinale where it won the “Dialogue in Perspective” award.  The film takes place in the 1980s, the last years of the GDR and tells the hair-raising story of one of the first skateboarding crews behind the Berlin Wall.  Drawing from Marten Persiel’s background as a commercial director, this first feature combines classic skate footage, kitschy commercials and first-person interviews to insightfully draw the audience into the maelstrom of excitement and controversy surrounding the sport’s early years in East Germany.  In Kate Gellene’s interview with Persiel on May 29, 2012, which appears in Rooftop Films (click here), Persiel says, “I started skating 29 years ago as a little kid in western Germany and never really stopped. I am super grateful for the friends I made in all those years and for the stuff I experienced skateboarding. It’s been a life vest and a guide through life… In the film, there is a sense that stupidly goofing around on the streets can shape whole biographies. It’s how you look at your city, the buildings around you, the streets. It’s how much you allow yourself to say ‘this is my world too, I want to play here’. To think like that could basically get you arrested in a totalitarian and militarized system like the GDR. … oh wait.. it can get you arrested in NY too! Hm.”

Closing Night party: After the screening, the closing night bash takes place at 9:30 pm on the Castro Mezzanine, celebrating the conclusion of another year of innovative programming with an assortment of local tastes and German drinks in the company of director Persiel, producer Ronald Vietz and other special guests in attendance.

ARThound’s Picks:

As the only human survivor after an unexplained global tragedy, German actress Marina Gedeck bonds tightly with her loyal dog in Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” a film that is true to Marlen Haushofer’s exceptional novel. Image: courtesy of Music Box Films

The Wall (Die Wand):  Austrian director Julian Roman Pölsler’s film is based on Marlen Haushofer’s 1962 dystopian hit novel of the same name (about to be re-printed in English later this year).  The film stars German actress Martina Gedeck from the brilliant 2006 Stassi thriller The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) and tells the story of a completely ordinary middle-aged woman (Gedeck) who is vacationing with friends in a remote mountain hunting lodge.  Her friends go out to a pub and she stays back with the dog and when they don’t come back, she makes a very creepy discovery.  She is imprisoned on the mountainside by an invisible wall, behind which there seems to be no life.  She appears to be the sole remaining human on earth, along with the dog (a red hound that will steal your heart), a cat, some kittens, and a cow, with which she forms a tight-knit family.

The film rests entirely on Gedeck’s shoulders and she is riveting, delivering a very credible performance that will leave you shivering and running home to snuggle with your dog.  The odd beauty of this film is that this last survivor scenario may be your own romanticized idea of heaven, or hell (Who hasn’t said “Fuck the world! I’m sick of people…give me just my dog!), but watching Gedeck use her time laboring hard, protecting her pack, and introspectively processing her life, leads us to right into her moments of intensely felt angst, terror, joy and sorrow. (Screens Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 4 PM, Castro Theatre)

Max Hubacher (left) stars in Swiss director Markus Imboden’s “Foster Boy” (“Der Verdingbub”), which has its US premiere at the 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival. Image courtesy: Global Screen.

Foster Boy: Markus Imboden’s Foster Boy (Der Verdingbub), the most successful Swiss film of the last 5 years, has its US premiere at the festival. The film is set in the 1950’s and revisits a dark and nearly forgotten period in the Switzerland’s recent history, when the government occasionally intervened to take children from parents who were deemed unfit, depriving them of custody, and sending their children to work, mainly on farms, a practice that lasted from the early 1800s until the 1960s. The story is focused on a young orphan, Max (Max Hubacher), who was sold to the Bösiger family of poor farmers and on another “Verdingbub,” (contract child) in that family, Berteli, a girl who was taken from her impoverished widowed mother. The gripping story follows the miserable life of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that the children underwent in a household that was supposed to provide foster parenting but instead used them as slave labor.

Hubacher, Switzerland’s 2012 Shotting Star award winner, gives a brilliant and nuanced performance as the emotionally and physically brutalized Max, whose only solace is his accordion and his dream of escaping to Argentina.  Through its story, the film directly exposes and challenges a grave injustice.  It also highlights the important role that an observant and caring outsider can play in reporting abuse IF the authorities to whom the complaint is made are not themselves complicit.  Stay tuned to ARThound for a full review. (Screens: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 4 PM, Castro Theatre)

Festival Details:  The 17th Berlin & Beyond Film Festival is September 27-October 4, 2012 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (at market Street) in San Francisco.  Parking can be difficult.  Allow AMPLE time to find parking if arriving by car.  Some programming is at the Goethe-Institut SF Auditorium (530 Bush Street (at Grant).  Tickets:  Price varies per program ($12 for most Castro Theatre screenings and $10 for most Goethe-Institut screenings).  Advance tickets for all shows are available at Brown Paper Tickets.  Online ticket sales end 10:00 pm prior to the day of show for each film.  For information on purchasing advance tickets and day of show tickets in person at the Goethe-Institut or at the Castro Theatre, click here.

September 22, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment