ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco’s Silent Film Festival: celebrating its 20th anniversary with 20 gems and an added day—kicks off this Thursday, May 28, 2015

The rare 1927 Chinese film, “Cave of the Spider Women“ (“Pan Si Dong”), screens Friday at the 20th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, May 28-June1, 2015.  This was the first Chinese film to screen in Scandinavia (Oslo 1929) and it was discovered in 2001 in archives of the National Library of Norway.  Special guest film archivist, Tina Anckarman from the National Library of Norway, will speak about its history and restoration.  Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius will pride live musical accompaniment. The engaging story revolves around a pilgrim monk who has been entrusted by an emperor to find some sacred Buddhist texts and he ends up trapped in the Cave of the Seven Spiders, who want to eat his flesh to become immortal.  The San Francisco Silent Film Society paid for new intertitles.   Image:  SFSFS

The rare 1927 Chinese film, “Cave of the Spider Women“ (“Pan Si Dong”), screens Friday at the 20th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, May 28-June1, 2015. This was the first Chinese film to screen in Scandinavia (Oslo 1929) and it was discovered in 2001 in archives of the National Library of Norway. Special guest film archivist, Tina Anckarman from the National Library of Norway, will speak about its history and restoration. Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius will pride live musical accompaniment. The story revolves around a pilgrim monk who has been entrusted by an emperor to find some sacred Buddhist texts. While begging for food, he ends up trapped in the Cave of the Seven Spiders, who not only want to seduce him but also eat his flesh to become immortal. Filmed during the last years of China’s Qing dynasty, before the 1911 Xinhai Revolution overthrew imperial rule, the film features extraordinary views of life and landscape in Beijing. Shots of hawkers, laborers, traders, and artisans reveal the city’s vibrant street culture. The San Francisco Silent Film Society paid for new intertitles. Image: SFSFS

On Thursday, the beloved San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) returns to San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Monday with a program of rare silent-era gems—20 features and numerous additional fascinating clips—well worth the trip to San Francisco.  This year, the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary and has added a full day of programming on Monday, including a free silent film trivia event hosted by Film Forum’s Bruce Goldman.   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 and American classics.  SFSFF this presents these gems in all their glory as they were meant to be seen—on the big screen in the beautiful Castro theatre, a beloved San Francisco landmark built in 1992 during the silent era.  Every film is presented with live musical accompaniment from musicians who live to breathe life into silent film and who will trek in from Colorado, New York, England, Germany and Sweden to perform at the Castro.

The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling is what keeps me coming back year after year.  It’s that and the audience, as you never know who you’ll end up sitting by.  Last year, I sat by a wonderful Hollywood costume designer who gave me a fascinating blow by blow account of the special tailoring techniques used in many of the outfits on screen.

This year’s festival includes early films from China (1), France (3), Germany (2), UK/German (1), Norway (1), Sweden (1) and the USA (10). The line-up includes such rarities as the first Chinese film to screen in Norway; an early Swedish film about an young boy who has to learn to adapt to a step-mother and step-sister after his mother’s sudden death; the earliest known surviving footage of a feature film with black actors; two French films illustrating artistic and intellectual life in avant-garde 1920’s Paris;  a silent version of Sherlock Holmes; and the first film to win Oscars for both Outstanding Production and Best Director (Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front).  The Castro seats 1400 but these films are immensely popular, so do buy your tickets ahead of time to ensure you get a seat.

Festival director, Anita Monga, responsible for programming, adds “We are trying to represent the breadth and depth of the silent era, balancing drama and comedy and presenting things from around the world.  Every year, there are more and more restorations of wonderful films that are being discovered. This year, we are presenting several restorations of films that were lost—Cave of the Spider Women, Sherlock Holmes (with William Gillet, the foremost interpreter of Sherlock on stage).  We’re also doing 100 years in Post-Production…an important presentation about a film that was found at New York’s MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) with an all African-American cast that includes the great entertainer Burt Williams.  Ron Magliozzi, the MoMA curator for the project, will be here narrating and sharing dozens of rare photographs too.  We’ve added an extra day and new free programs that will engage the audience.  We’re offering a very rich experience that is set to live music.”

Jacque Feydor’s “Visages d'enfants” (“Faces of Children”), a 1921 masterpiece, was filmed on location in the remote Haut-Valais alps region of Switzerland, with spectacular mountain scenery and a thrilling avalanche scene adding atmosphere to the characters' complex emotions. The film is about the effect on a sensitive troubled boy (Jean Forest) of his mother's death and his father's remarriage.  The completely natural emotional intensity of the children, particularly 12 year-old Jean Forest, make this one of the most poignant films of the silent era.  Screens Saturday, May 30, at 2 PM.  Image: SFSFF

Jacque Feydor’s “Visages d’enfants” (“Faces of Children”), a 1921 masterpiece, was filmed on location in the remote Haut-Valais alps region of Switzerland, with spectacular mountain scenery and a thrilling avalanche scene adding atmosphere to the characters’ complex emotions. The film is about the effect on a sensitive troubled boy (Jean Forest) of his mother’s death and his father’s remarriage. The completely natural emotional intensity of the children, particularly 12 year-old Jean Forest, make this one of the most poignant films of the silent era. Screens Saturday, May 30, at 2 PM. Image: SFSFF

Serge Bromberg, founder of restoration lab and film distributor, Lobster Films, is the recipient of this year’s Silent Film Festival Award to be presented before Saturday’s  “Visages d'Enfants”  screening.  Bromberg is a preservationist, entertainer, filmmaker, musician and favorite of SFSFF.  Since 1992, he has presented his rare film finds in the touring program, “Retour de Flamme” (“Saved from the Flames”) to audiences worldwide and has been responsible for the recovery of the films of George Méliès, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Max Linder, and many more.  Bromberg will both introduce and accompany Saturday’s  “Amazing Charley Bowers” program which will screen Bowers’ beautifully restored surviving films from the 1920’s.  Image: SFSFF

Serge Bromberg, founder of restoration lab and film distributor, Lobster Films, is the recipient of this year’s Silent Film Festival Award to be presented before Saturday’s “Visages d’Enfants” screening. Bromberg is a preservationist, entertainer, filmmaker, musician and favorite of SFSFF. Since 1992, he has presented his rare film finds in the touring program, “Retour de Flamme” (“Saved from the Flames”) to audiences worldwide and has been responsible for the recovery of the films of George Méliès, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Max Linder, and many more. Bromberg will both introduce and accompany Saturday’s “Amazing Charley Bowers” program which will screen Bowers’ beautifully restored surviving films from the 1920’s. Image: SFSFF

Silent film accompanist Stephen Horne, based at London’s BFI Southbank, plays at all the major UK venues, including the Barbican Centre and the Imperial War Museum and is in high demand at festivals all over the world. .  Although principally a pianist, he often incorporates other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. This year marks Horne’s ninth year playing at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  Horne will accompany “When the Earth Trembled”, “The Ghost Train,” “Visages d”enfants,” “Ménilmontant,” “Avant-Garde Paris,”  and “The Swallow and the Titmouse,” where he will be joined by the world-renowned San Francisco-based harpist Diana Rowan.  Image: SFSFF

Silent film accompanist Stephen Horne, based at London’s BFI Southbank, plays at all the major UK venues, including the Barbican Centre and the Imperial War Museum and is in high demand at festivals all over the world. . Although principally a pianist, he often incorporates other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. This year marks Horne’s ninth year playing at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Horne will accompany “When the Earth Trembled”, “The Ghost Train,” “Visages d”enfants,” “Ménilmontant,” “Avant-Garde Paris,” and “The Swallow and the Titmouse,” where he will be joined by the world-renowned San Francisco-based harpist Diana Rowan. Image: SFSFF

Full festival schedule here.

Details:  SFSFF runs Thursday, May 28, 2015 through Monday, June 1, 2015 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco.  Tickets: $16 for all films, except opening night film which is $22.  Passes to all films (Opening Night Party not included) are $260 general and $230 for San Francisco Silent Film Society members (lowest membership level is $50).  Click here for tickets. Click here for passes and membership info.   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 in the Castro district and walking to/from the theatre.  Plan on arriving at the theater at least 15 minutes prior to the screening.

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May 26, 2015 Posted by | Chamber Music, Classical Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Snow White’s” moment—three films, from 1916, 1937 and 2012, are the ones to see and savor now

Macarena García is Carmen or “Blancanieves” in Spanish director Pablo Berger’s “Blancanieves,” a black and white silent film which situates the Snow White story in 1920’s Spain and has Snow White fighting bulls.  Spain’s official 2013 Academy Award entry.

Macarena García is Carmen or “Blancanieves” in Spanish director Pablo Berger’s “Blancanieves,” a black and white silent film which situates the Snow White story in 1920’s Spain and has Snow White fighting bulls. Spain’s official 2013 Academy Award entry.

Suddenly, it’s “Snow White’s” moment.  Adaptations of the 19th century Brothers Grimm fairy tale are popping up everywhere, from J. Searle Dawley’s 1916 silent feature “Snow White” to Walt Disney’s 1937 animated classic to Spanish director Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated 2012 “Blancanieves.”  There are two Hollywood films—Rupert Sanders’ 2012 action adventure “Snow White and the Huntsman” and Tarsem Singh’s 2012 “Mirror Mirror” with Julia Roberts as the couture-clad queen—and the TV series, “Once Upon a Time” which has a woman with a troubled past in a New England town where fairy tales characters are real.   At its core, the Snow White story is one of transformation.  A motherless and oppressed young girl—with hair as dark as ebony, skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood— defies death and matures into a young woman whose heart of gold is obvious to all.  Her victory requires suffering, a journey into a dark forest, hard work, and a healing kiss.  If you’re a fan of the enchanting story, here are three “Snow White” film events in the Bay Area you’ll want to catch—

Disney Museum’s 75th anniversary celebration of Walt Disney’s 1937 film— Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic, at the Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, through April 14, 2013.   Art exhibition, two new books, daily screenings of “Snow White”

"Snow White Greets a Baby Bird"; Disney Studio Artist; Reproduction cel setup; airbrushed post production background on paper; Walt Disney Animation Research Library; © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

“Snow White Greets a Baby Bird”; Disney Studio Artist; Reproduction cel setup; airbrushed post production background on paper; Walt Disney Animation Research Library; © Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Walt Disney’s 1937 animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the first full-length animated feature in motion picture history, the first film produced in full color and the first to be produced by Walt Disney Productions.  The Walt Disney Family Museum, at San Francisco’s Presidio, is celebrating this revered film’s 75th anniversary with a comprehensive retrospective, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic (November 15-April 14, 2013),  two new books, and almost daily 4 p.m. screenings of “Snow White.”  (check the screening schedule here.)

Guest Curated by Lella Smith, Creative Director of the Walt Disney Company’s Animation Research Library (ARL) in Los Angeles, the exhibition features over 200 artworks, including conceptual drawings, character studies, detailed story sketches, and animation drawings, along with thumbnail layout watercolors, pencil layouts, rare watercolor backgrounds, and vintage posters.  Many of these have never been exhibited before and appear for the first time in print in the exhibition catalogue written by Disney scholar J.B. Kaufman.  The artworks are drawn from the Disney Family Museum and from the ARL which acquired an important collection of cleanup animation, layouts, backgrounds and Snow White story sketches from art collector Steve Ison about five years ago.

If you haven’t visited the museum before, now is the time to go as this is a delightful and comprehensive exploration of the film and all that went into it.  It is also the museum’s first exhibit in its elegant special exhibition hall in the Riley building, just behind the main museum.  Built in 1904, this spacious hall was previously the military post’s gymnasium.

Film historian J.B. Kaufman has two new books out celebrating the 75th anniversary of Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Film historian J.B. Kaufman has two new books out celebrating the 75th anniversary of Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Especially fascinating are the detailed story sketches which trace the evolving storyline that Walt Disney and his artists had for the film and the massive collaborative process this entailed. It literally took a village—32 animators, 1032 assistants, 107 “in-betweeners,” 10 layout artists, 25 background artists, 65 special effects animators, 158 inkers and painters and countless production staff—working non-stop for three years.

The exhibition shows every aspect of this collaboration from concept to layout to design—and everything is painstakingly hand-drawn.  Also on display is artwork from scenes that were never fully developed, or that were deleted from the film such as one of Dopey where he is sent up to look for Snow White, or one in which the dwarfs build and carve a bed for Snow White, and another in which she dances in the stars.

“Snow White” continues to garner accolades—it is on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, ranking 34th and in 2008, the AFI also named it “the greatest American animated film of all time.”

Two lavish publications, both by film historian and Disney scholar J.B. Kaufman, trace the film and its art work in breathtaking detail. These were published in November 2012 when the exhibition opened at the Disney Family Museum.

The hardcover catalogue, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: the Creation of a Classic (2012, 256 pages) covers the entire exhibition and includes never-before-seen art and behind-the-scenes stories.  The book, The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (2012, 320 pages) is the definitive story of the film. It covers the origins of the fairy tale, the impact that the 1916 silent feature had on Walt Disney, the genesis of each sequence in the picture, the conception and development of each of the characters, the merchandising the film generated, the film’s success in subsequent theatrical reissues, and the reuse of the Dwarfs in a handful of wartime short films.

J. Searle Dawley’s 1916 silent feature film “Snow White”—screens Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 10 a.m. at Castro Theatre, San Francisco as part of The San Francisco Silent Winter Film Festival sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFS).

Marguerite Clark and Creighton Hale in J. Searly Dawley’s “Snow White,” (1916). SF Silent Film Festival.

Marguerite Clark and Creighton Hale in J. Searly Dawley’s “Snow White,” (1916). SF Silent Film Festival.

Thought of as a lost film until a print was recently found in the Netherlands and restored, this 1916 motion picture feature stars Marguerite Clark as Snow White.  Clark was 33 at the time and had 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.   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

“Although this film is quite different from Disney’s animated film, I think you can see sparks of Marguerite Clark’s performance in Walt’s Snow White,” said Anita Monga, SFSFS Artistic Director.  “There are also big differences, notably in the depiction and feel of the wicked stepmothers.”

Marguerite Clark as Snow White in J. Searly Dawley’s 1916 silent film “Snow White.”  Clark was 33 at the time but had youthful features and at just 4’10,” she could pull off much younger characters quite convincingly.  Still courtesy: SFFS.

Marguerite Clark as Snow White in J. Searly Dawley’s 1916 silent film “Snow White.” Clark was 33 at the time but had youthful features and at just 4’10,” she could pull off much younger characters quite convincingly. Film still courtesy: SFFS.

The website “A Lost Film blog” (www.alostfilm.com) has a fascinating side-by-side comparison of film stills from the 1916 film with the 1937 Disney film, showing four cases where Disney drew heavy inspiration from the 1916 film (click here to go to the article)

Film historian and Disney scholar  J.B. Kaufman will introduce the film on Saturday and speak about its enduring impact on Walt Disney who was clearly influenced by the film but made his own artistic statement through brilliant and unforgettable animation.

Following the screening, Kaufman will sign his two new books on Snow White, which will be for sale, in the lobby of the Castro Theatre  (“Snow White” screens February 16, 2013 10 a.m. with Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano and Introduction by J.B. Kaufman.

Buy tickets, $15, online here.  For more information: The San Francisco Silent Winter Film Festival.

“Blancanieves,” Spanish director Pablo Berger’s mesmerizing Oscar-nominated black and white silent film—coming soon to select Bay Area theatres 

Carmen (Sofía Oria) right is brought up by her flamenco dancer grandmother (Ángela Molina) in Pablo Berger’s “Blancanieves” (2011).

Carmen (Sofía Oria) right is brought up by her flamenco dancer grandmother (Ángela Molina) in Pablo Berger’s “Blancanieves” (2011).

A spellbinding original!  This lush black and white silent film from 2011 inventively situates the Snow White story in 1920’s Seville where a young girl Carmen/Snow White (played as a child by Sofía Oria, and later by Macarena García) is the daughter of the once-renowned matador Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho).  He was crippled in the ring and is still grieving for his wife, who died during childbirth.  Carmen is brought up by her flamenco dancer grandmother (Ángela Molina), then tormented by her tyrannical narcissistic stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdú).  She is secretly schooled in the art of bullfighting by her father, just before his malicious new wife enacts a terrible revenge on him.  Knowing that she’s in grave danger, Carmen escapes Encarna’s custody and joins a travelling troupe of bullfighting dwarves, eventually rising to fame in the corrida under the stage name Blancanieves.  The drama, infused with fascinating story twists, is propelled by Alfonso de Vilallonga’s hypnotic musical score which includes thrilling flamenco passages.  Kiko de la Rica’s chiaroscuro photography, with its compelling close-ups, adds even more interest to this remarkable dram.  (2011, 104 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles, Spain’s official foreign language entry to the 2013 Academy Awards.)   To see this film, check the listings for art-house theatres that are screening Oscar nominees.  Last month, the film screened to a full house at San Rafael’s Smith Rafael Film Center and it is sure to emerge again.  With its cinematography and captivating story, this is a silent film to savor on the big screen.

February 12, 2013 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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