ARThound

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

Old and treasured—The 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 29-June 1 at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre

Captain John Noel’s recently restored “The Epic of Everest” (1924) screens Saturday, May 31, at the 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  This is the official film record of the third British expedition to attempt to reach the summit of Everest which includes the journey across the Tibetan Plateau towards Everest.  Pictured above is alpine climber John de Vars Hazard, a member of the 1924 Everest expedition.  The film records some of the earliest images of the Tibetan people and their culture, including scenes at the village of Phari (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and the Rongbuk Monastery.   The British Film Institute Archive restoration has transformed the quality of the surviving elements, reintroducing the original colored tints and tones to do full justice to this heroic feat of exploration cinematography.  Photo: courtesy BFI

Captain John Noel’s recently restored “The Epic of Everest” (1924) screens Saturday, May 31, at the 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival. This is the official film record of the third British expedition to attempt to reach the summit of Everest which includes the journey across the Tibetan Plateau towards Everest. Pictured above is alpine climber John de Vars Hazard, a member of the 1924 Everest expedition. The film records some of the earliest images of the Tibetan people and their culture, including scenes at the village of Phari (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and the Rongbuk Monastery. The British Film Institute Archive restoration has transformed the quality of the surviving elements, reintroducing the original colored tints and tones to do full justice to this heroic feat of exploration cinematography. Photo: courtesy BFI

On Thursday, the always popular San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) returns to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre and runs through Sunday with a program of 19 rare silent-era gems well worth coming into San Francisco for.  From iconic silent film actors to fantastic restorations, this year’s lineup spans the far corners of the globe and delivers an outstanding mix from cinema’s golden age. Now in its 19th year, SFSFF this presents these gems in all their glory as they were meant to be seen—on the big screen, with live musical accompaniment, in the beautiful Castro theatre, a beloved San Francisco landmark built in 1992 during the silent era.  The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling is what keeps me coming back again and again.  This year’s festival includes early films from China, France, Germany (2), Japan, UK (2), Sweden and the USSR (2). The line-up includes such rarities as the first footage of Tibet and Everest; the first social realist film in Chinese cinema; an early feminist story from Sweden, and a 1924 tour of Moscow where an American learns that the Soviets are not the Barbarians he expected they were.   The Castro seats 1400 but these films are immensely popular, so do buy your tickets ahead of time to ensure you get a seat.

Last week, I was able to speak with festival director Anita Monga about the festival and these early foreign gems—

For people who have just one day to devote to the festival, what do you recommend?

Anita Monga—Saturday, May 31.  At noon, we’ve got something really special.  French film preservationist and entertainer, Serge Bromberg, is coming in from Paris for “Treasure Trove”— a screening and conversation about some new discoveries.  Film historian, Fernando Peña, is also coming from Argentina.   The program will be focused on Peña’s discovery last year of a lost version of Buster Keaton’s short “The Blacksmith,” a huge discovery in the world of film.  Peña is the same guy who discovered an original uncut version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” in Argentina’s Museo del Cine a few years back.  In this version of “The Blacksmith,” there are several minutes of never-before-seen Keaton gags and film’s ending is different too.  It’s rare, but there have been cases where different versions of a film have cropped up because, during the Silent Era, it was common that two cameras would be placed side by side, each shooting, producing two separate sets of negatives.  It’s a real coup that we were able to get these two great film historians to San Francisco at the same time to make this presentation.  So this is going to be great.

A never before seen alternate version of the Buster Keaton short “The Blacksmith,” featuring several minutes of previously unseen footage, will screen at the 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Saturday, May 31, as part of Serge Bromberg’s “Treasure Trove.”  The presentation includes film historian Fernando Peña, from Argentina, in conversation with celebrated film historian Serge Bromberg.  Image: courtesy SFSFF

A never before seen alternate version of the Buster Keaton short “The Blacksmith,” featuring several minutes of previously unseen footage, will screen at the 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Saturday, May 31, as part of film preservationist and historian Serge Bromberg’s “Treasure Trove.” Joining Bromberg in conversation is film historian Fernando Peña, from Argentina, who found the film. Image: courtesy SFSFF

 

What can you tell us about John Noel’s “The Epic of Everest” (1924) which also screens Saturday?  I understand that the explorer John Noel first made his first attempt to get to Everest through Tibet in 1913 but failed and that the British Film Institute is commemorating the centenary of that heroic effort with the restoration of the 1924 film, which was actually the third British expedition attempting Everest. 

Anita Monga—This is an amazing documentary.  It includes the earliest film footage of Tibetan culture and captures British explorers’ Mallory and Irvine’s tragic attempt to reach the summit of Everest.  This was created back in the era where we had already reached the North and South Poles and the allure of the world’s highest summit had the entire world transfixed.  It’s got everything—gorgeous shots that capture the thrill of this difficult journey and the amazing Stephen Horne will be on the piano accompanying.

I understand that film was made under extremely difficult conditions at high altitudes and in very low temperatures. The negatives were sent down the mountain and across the Tibetan plains by yak to Darjeeling where Noel had set up a special laboratory to process the films. (To read an article about the BFI’s restoration efforts, undertaken with Noel’s daughter, Sandra Noel, click here.)

Anita Monga— Yes.  The circumstances under which this was filmed make it all the more special.  We (the festival) are presenting the BFI National Archive with a special award on Saturday honoring their exceptional restoration work which has recreated the film’s original beauty.   Another special event on Saturday evening will be Gerhard Lamprecht’s “Under the Lantern” (Unter der Laterne, 1928), a rarely screened German film which tells the story of a good girl’s fall into prostitution, a common theme of the silent era.  We’re screening a newly restored 35 mm version. The Donald Sosin Ensemble, which will accompany the film, is one of the most extraordinary performances that you will ever experience, so prepare to be transported right into Weimar Germany.

In Gerhard Lamprecht’s “Under the Lantern” (Unter der Laterne, 1928), which screens Saturday, a young woman is thrown out of the house by her overly strict and unforgiving father who then hounds her, forcing her into the underground with a new identity, followed by prostitution and death.  Shot in Berlin’s entertainment district of dimly-lit beer halls and nightclubs, the film highlights the struggles that take place in the back alleys by streetwalkers, pimps and taxi dancers. The Donald Sosin Ensemble will accompany the film, evoking Berlin in the 1920’s and complimenting Karl Hasselmann’s expressive cinematography.  Image: SFSFF

In Gerhard Lamprecht’s “Under the Lantern” (Unter der Laterne, 1928), which screens Saturday at 7 p.m., a young woman is thrown out of the house by her overly strict and unforgiving father who then hounds her, forcing her into the underground with a new identity, followed by prostitution and tragedy. Shot in Berlin’s entertainment district of dimly-lit beer halls, nightclubs, and back alleys, the film highlights the bleak struggles of streetwalkers, pimps and taxi dancers. The Donald Sosin Ensemble will accompany the film, evoking Berlin in the 1920’s and complimenting Karl Hasselmann’s expressive cinematography. Image: SFSFF

You’ve got two early Russian films this year.  The one that caught my eye was Lev Kuleshov’s “The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks” (1924), a satire that explores stereotypes of Russians and Americans and includes spectacular footage of Moscow in the 1920’s.  It’s also a prime example of early Soviet montage cinema, a new form of cinema that emerged in the 1920’ that was influential to subsequent generations of Russian filmmakers. 

Anita Monga — The Landmark Theatres used to have a trailer that ran before every film with a globe and a narrator saying “The Language of Cinema is universal…” and this film fits right into that because it makes a very funny but important point about how the Americans are afraid of the Bolsheviks without really knowing much about them.  This film appropriates American iconography and very cleverly tells a story of an American businessman who takes a business trip to Russia and comes away with an entirely different impression.  Kuleshov also mimicked the American style of filmmaking and ended up with a new style of film—montage—which became very influential.

Lev Kuleshov’s “The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks” which screens Saturday evening at 10 PM, chronicles the adventures of an American YMCA executive, "Mr. West," and his cowboy bodyguard/sidekick Jeddie, as they visit the land of the Bolsheviks. Through various mishaps, Mr. West discovers that the Soviets are actually quite remarkable people, and, by the end of the film, his opinion of them has changed to one of glowing admiration.  The film includes wonderful footage of Moscow in the 1920’s.

Lev Kuleshov’s “The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks,” screening Saturday at 10 PM, chronicles the adventures of an American YMCA executive, Mr. West, and his cowboy bodyguard/sidekick Jeddie, as they visit the land of the Bolsheviks. Through various mishaps, Mr. West discovers that the Soviets are actually quite remarkable people, and, by the end of the film, his opinion of them has changed to one of glowing admiration. The film includes wonderful footage of Moscow in the 1920’s.

Who decides what films will be included in the festival and what criteria is used?  

Anita Monga—I do.  Sometimes things just happen in the film world.  For example, Edwin Carewe’s “Ramona” (1928) (screening Friday at 7:30 p.m.) had the big world premiere of its restoration in March in Los Angeles and I knew we had to have it.  It was done by a Native American director which makes it rare to start with.  For decades, it was considered lost but actually it has a remarkable survival story behind it that includes a Czech print being confiscated by the Nazis and going to Berlin and Russia and back to Czechoslovakia and then to the U.S. where it was recently restored.   So there are films surfacing for some topical reason that I include.  This year, we’re giving a special award to the British Film Institute so we’re screening two British Films—“Epic of Everest” and Maurice Elvey’s “The Sign of Four” (1923), a Sherlock Holmes adventure that was adapted from Conan Doyle’s novel.   And there are some films that have been on my radar for a long time like Leo Mittler’s “Harbor Drift” (1929), a masterpiece which is set in Hamburg, Germany, during the period of extreme unemployment and destitution and its characters are all desperate and brought together by a beautiful pearl necklace which could change their lives forever.  We’re going for diversity and unique appeal.

The 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen a newly restored version of Edwin Carewe’s “Ramona” (1928) that was considered lost until it surfaced a few years ago in the Czech Republic.  Mexican actress Dolores del Rio—the first Latin star to be recognized internationally—plays the mixed race orphan, Ramona who is raised by a landed Mexican-California family.  She dares to elope with a Temecula Indian and starts a new life embracing her Indian heritage.  Instead of her dream of happiness, she endures tragedy and persecution in an era where Native Americans were considered inferiors.

The 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen a newly restored version of Edwin Carewe’s “Ramona” (1928) that was considered lost until it surfaced a few years ago in the Czech Republic. Mexican actress Dolores del Rio—the first Latin star to be recognized internationally—plays the mixed race orphan, Ramona, who is raised by a landed Mexican-California family. She dares to elope with a Temecula Indian and starts a new life embracing her Indian heritage. Instead of realizing her dream of happiness, she endures tragedy and persecution in an era where Native Americans were considered inferiors.

 

On Sunday, you’re screening two films that feature take charge young women—Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s “Dragnet Girl” (1933) which has Kinuyo Tanaka in an early role as a typist by day and gangster’s moll by night and Swedish director Karin Swanström’s “The Girl in Tails” (1926) which is the story of a young girl who isn’t able to have a dress for her graduation so she goes in her brother’s tuxedo instead. 

Anita Monga—One of the big stars of “The Girl in Tails” is the director, Karin Swanström, who was extremely powerful and influential woman in Sweden in the 1920’s. This was the last film she directed and it’s fantastic.  She plays a country matron.  The girl’s story is something that was common:  she fills in as a caretaker in the family to her recently widowed father and brother.  She does the work but the boy gets all the perks. like great clothes.  Things erupt when she is denied a new dress for a school dance and comes to the dance in one of her brother’s suits.

Pool playing is a prominently featured in Japanese director Yasujiro’s Ozu’s “Dragnet Girl” (“Hijosen No Onna,” 1933) screening Sunday at noon.  Ozu, a fan of American films, pays homage to the genre, filling the frame with Hollywood-style décor and costumes, moody lighting and classic elements of film noir, including a trapped hero. The sets and cinematography were reportedly influenced by the work of Joseph von Sternberg.  Kinuyo Tanaka, who later went on to star in almost all of Mizoguchi’s movies, is charming in one of her earlier film roles—an ultra modern Yokohama office girl by day and gun-toting tough heroine by night.  She has a heart of gold, moral fiber, and the reformist zeal of a Salvation Army crusader, even if she shoots her man in the foot to teach him a lesson.

Pool playing is a prominently featured in Japanese director Yasujiro’s Ozu’s “Dragnet Girl,” (“Hijosen No Onna,” 1933) screening Sunday at noon. Ozu, a fan of American films, pays homage to the genre, filling the frame with Hollywood-style décor and costumes, moody lighting and classic elements of film noir. The sets and cinematography were reportedly influenced by the work of Joseph von Sternberg. Kinuyo Tanaka, who later went on to star in almost all of Mizoguchi’s movies, is charming in one of her earlier film roles—an ultra modern Yokohama office girl by day and gun-toting tough heroine by night. She has a heart of gold, moral fiber, and the reformist zeal of a Salvation Army crusader, even as she shoots her man in the foot to teach him a lesson.

There are a lot of great musicians at the festival who seem to be regulars and they travel great distances to perform here.  How would new talent break in to what seems to be a pretty close-knit group?

Anita Monga—It’s really difficult because music is expensive and it’s such an important part of the experience.  I would love to have more musicians at the festival but there’s nobody that we’ve brought to the festival that we don’t want to have back again…they’re literally the best in the world at what they do.  This year we’re bringing in a new German percussionist, Frank Bocklus, who will be sitting in with several musicians and playing in the Donald Sosin Ensemble, along with bass player Guenter Buchwald who is also new.  Our primary consideration is ultimately they have to be really good and very tuned in to the film itself.   Matti Bye, a festival favorite, also does scoring for contemporary films in Sweden  and is in high demand for that.

Has the San Francisco Symphony’s film series, Film Night with the San Francisco Symphony, which includes a film and live orchestra experience, had any impact on your festival?  I’ve been amazed at the series popularity—it’s brought a new and much younger audience out to the Davies Hall and it’s wonderful.  I caught Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” there in April and loved every minute of it.  They’re doing Disney’s “Fantasia” this weekend.

Anita Monga—We hope there’s some spillover.  The Symphony does films that have full orchestral scores and the Chaplin films, for example, require presenting the full orchestral score by Chaplin.  Many of the silent features have that stricture, that they cannot be performed live but they can be shown with the sound track that accompanies it and, of course, at this festival, we do live musical accompaniment but not full orchestration.  We always promote their showings and we’re great fans.

What can you tell us about the festival audience?

Anita Monga—San Francisco is a very special place for film, period.  The audience, which comes from all over the country, is also special and very adventurous.  They are willing to try things they don’t already know and that’s a huge part of this festival—taking it on faith that it’s going to be good.  Once they get through the door, they get how rare this live cinema experience is and how much logistical planning goes into preparing such an expansive program. The real pleasure is in discovering new names and making all sorts of connections.   And in between films, they get to experience the wonderful Castro neighborhood.

Full Festival Schedule

Details: The 19th San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs Thursday, May 29, 2014 through Sunday, June 1, 2014 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $15 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. Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.

 

 

 

May 27, 2014 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 concierge@silentfilm.org .

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

San Francisco’s 17th Annual Silent Film Festival: celebrating the silent era with 16 rare gems, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre—opens this Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chinese director Sun Yu’s “Little Toys “(1933) screens Friday at the 17th San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Set in the late ’20s and early ’30s, the film vividly captures a tumultuous time in Chinese history through the story of a rural traditional toymaker who moves with her daughter to Shanghai after her husband dies and her son is kidnapped. Stars Ruan Lingyu, one of the great icons of Chinese cinema. Image courtesy: SFSFF

The 17th San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) begins Thursday, July 12, 2012 and runs through Sunday, July 15, 2012, presenting 16 masterpieces from the silent era , all at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. With special guest speakers and live music, every performance is unqiue.

The festival opens Thursday evening with William A. Wellman’s Wings (1927)(141 min) which was meticulously restored for Paramount Pictures’ 100th anniversary, giving silent fans the chance to see the first Oscar winner (for best picture) in all its glory. Featuring groundbreaking  aerial dogfights and epic battle sequences, Wings is both a cinematic spectacle and a compelling story of love and sacrifice that effectively dramatizes the bitter price of war.  The historic piece of cinema stars Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen, and also features Gary Cooper in one of his first feature film roles.  Live musical accompaniment is by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra with Foley effects by Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt.  After the film, the festival kicks off with its fabulous opening night party at the McRoskey Mattress Company, which is a short walk from the theatre.   Friday, Saturday and Sunday each offer a full day with 5-6 film events, all to live music and the chance to hear experts on film history and restoration talk about specific issues related to each film.

“Pandora’s Box” (1929) is the Centerpiece Film of this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festiva;. Starring Louise Brooks as the irrepressible Lulu, the cavorting mistress of a German newspaper publisher whose exploits land her in a heap of trouble, the film was panned by the New York Times in 1929. Image courtesy: SFSFF

While all the films are special, in addition to it Opening Night Film, Wings,  the festival is showcasing two additional films:

Pandora’s Box  (Die Büchse der Pandora)(Germany, 1929, approximately 143 minutes) Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst  Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, Carl Götz

Adapted from German playwright Frank Wedekind’s Lulu plays, Pandora’s Box is the pinnacle of German expressionism and one of the great films of all time. Director Pabst cast the luminous Louise Brooks as the amoral Lulu, a young woman who bewitches everyone who comes within her sphere—men and women alike—with her uninhibited persona and sexuality.  David Thomson wrote, “When she played Lulu in Pandora’s Box, Louise Brooks created more than a character: she set the precedent for cinematic femmes fatales forever.” Stunning restoration produced by San Francisco-based Angela Holm and David Ferguson.  (Accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble.  Introduced by David Ferguson, Angela Holm, Vincent Pirozzi)  Centerpiece Film: Screens Saturday, July 14, 2012, 7 p.m.

“The Cameraman” (1928) with Buster Keaton (Buster), right, and Harry Gribbon (Cop) is the Centerpiece Film of the 17th San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Image courtesy: SFSFF

The Cameraman (USA, 1928, approximately 76 minutes) Directed by Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton. Cast: Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin.  The genius of Buster Keaton, cinema’s great clown, is on full display in this wonderful comedy about the business of movie making.  The film follows Keaton, a sidewalk tintype portrait photographer, as he tries to break into the newsreels to woo the girl of his dreams, Sally (Marceline Day) who works for the MGM newsreels.  Keaton famously did his own stunts and The Cameraman is a showcase for his physical virtuosity as well as an enchantingly goofy love story.  The Cameraman is the best film Keaton made after signing away his independence to MGM in 1928, a business decision he said was the worst of his life that put a damper on his unique creativity. (Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.  Introduced by Frank Buxton and Leonard Maltin) Closing Film: Screens Sunday, July 12, 2012, 7:30 p.m.

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.

Stay tuned to ARThound for a review of self-taught Australian photographer Frank Hurley’s South (1919), a masterpiece Hurley filmed as a member of Ernest Shackleton’s famed Antarctic expedition in the Endurance, at the outbreak of World War I.  Hurley’s dramatic shots, filmed at great personal risk, stand as hallmarks of documentary photography.  Now restored by BFI, with the original tints and toning.  South screens Saturday, July 14, 2012, at 5 p.m.  Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano, with Paul McGann introducing the film and reading Shackleton’s letters to Horne’s elegiac score.

Full festival schedule—Chronological View  and  Calendar View

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.

July 11, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment