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Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco’s 18th Annual Silent Film Festival: celebrating the silent era with premieres, restorations and wonderful live music, at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre—opens this Thursday, July 18, 2012

Ralph Lewis (left) and Tom O’Brien (right) are pressmen for the San Francisco Chronicle in Emory Johnson’s newly restored “The Last Edition,” screening for the first time in 83 years at the 18th SF Silent Film Festival on Sunday.  The film was found in a film archive in the Netherlands two years ago.  Originally shot on highly degradable nitrate film, it required two years of dedicated restoration.  Image: courtesy SFSFF.

Ralph Lewis (left) and Tom O’Brien (right) are pressmen for the San Francisco Chronicle in Emory Johnson’s newly restored “The Last Edition,” screening for the first time in 83 years at the 18th SF Silent Film Festival on Sunday. The film was found in a film archive in the Netherlands two years ago. Originally shot on highly degradable nitrate film, it required two years of dedicated restoration. Image: courtesy SFSFF.

The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) begins Thursday, July 17, 2013 and runs through Sunday, July 21, 2013, presenting films from nine countries and 17 programs celebrating the wonder of silent film, all at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre. Thursday night, the festival kicks off and Friday, Saturday and Sunday each offer a full day of
5-6 film events, all with live music, making every performance unique.  In addition to re-introducing some oft-forgotten talents from cinematic history, the festival brings in experts on film history and restoration to talk about specific issues related to each film so this is a chance to learn about a film’s entire social context while seeing it on the Castro’s big screen.

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.

Thursday: Opening Night Film: PRIX DE BEAUTÉ – France 1930

The festival opens on Thursday with a beautiful new restoration (from the Cineteca di Bologna) of Louise Brooks in her last starring role in Augusto Genina’s Prix de Beauté.  Less known than her work with G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl), Prix de Beauté was marred by its less-than-successful foray into early sound (Brooks’s voice was dubbed). The San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation is the superior silent version recently restored in Bologna. Brooks is stunning as Lucienne, the “every girl” typist who enters a beauty contest and is introduced to a shiny world of fame and modernity.  But Prix’s script, a collaboration between René Clair and G.W. Pabst, doesn’t leave Lucienne in a fairy tale bubble but leads to a powerful, moving denouement. Cinematographers Rudolph Maté and Louis Née make beautiful use of Brooks’s glorious face. Accompanying the film will be world-renowned pianist (and festival favorite) Stephen Horne who has a special musical surprise in store for viewers at the end of the film.

Opening Night Party: After the film, at 9 p.m., the SFSFF 2013 kicks off with its fabulous opening night party at the McRoskey Mattress Company, a short walk from the theatre.  There will be drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the Frisky Frolics, and the first-ever SF Silent Film Festival Beauty Contest and a raffle for a chance to win a $3000 shopping spree! (Drawing will be held on Closing Night.)  Wear your best 1910s – 1920s-inspired Glad Rags and parade in front of a panel of Celebrity Judges for fabulous prizes including the Grand Prize of a Styling Consultation with Artful Gentleman! Whether you raid your closet or arrive in your newest acquisition, everyone is eligible.

Actor, writer, and producer Miles Mander plays British politician Sir Hugo Boycott and Madeleine Carroll is Lady Madeleine Boycott in “The First Born,” 1928.  The film touches on the very adult themes of infertility and adultery and the disintegration of a marriage in a wealthy British upper-class milieu.  Image: courtesy BFI.

Actor, writer, and producer Miles Mander plays British politician Sir Hugo Boycott and Madeleine Carroll is Lady Madeleine Boycott in “The First Born,” 1928. The film touches on the very adult themes of infertility and adultery and the disintegration of a marriage in a wealthy British upper-class milieu. Image: courtesy BFI.

Friday:  Into the 1920’s bedroom, THE FIRST BORN –UK 1928

Miles Mander, famous for his moustache, has his directorial debut and stars in a film that was adapted from his own play The First Born, a tale of philandering politician Hugo Boycott (Mander), and his young wife Madeleine (played by Madeleine Carroll).  Unable to have a child, their marriage is strained, so in desperation Madeleine attempts to dupe him into believing that someone else’s baby is his own.  Set in a British upper-class milieu and touching on morality, politics, and the disintegration of a marriage, the film present’s a fascinating glimpse back in time as well as exceptionally rich characters.  The screenplay was co-written by Alma Reville, most known today as Hitchcock’s wife, but someone who had already established herself in the industry before her husband picked up a camera.  Musician Stephen Horne, who has accompanied the film several times before and wrote a full score for the BFI’s restoration gala screening in London in 2011, will perform.   The film screens Friday, July 19, at 2 p.m.

Saturday: A Brand New Restoration of THE HALF-BREED – USA 1916

On Saturday, July 20th at Noon, the Festival will premiere a brand new restoration of a “lost” Douglas Fairbanks film, The Half-Breed—the result of a partnership between the Cinémathèque française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  The great Allan Dwan directed this western drama set amongst the redwoods and filmed in part near Boulder Creek (with Victor Fleming behind the camera). Based on a story by Bret Harte and adapted by Anita Loos, The Half-Breed stars Douglas Fairbanks as Lo Dorman, a half-Indian outcast from society, who lives in the forest and makes his home in a hollow tree. The coquettish pastor’s daughter (Jewel Carmen) toys with his affections, but it is Teresa (Alma Reuben) on the run from the law, who shares Lo’s status as an outsider. Founder and conductor of the Freiburg Filmharmonic Orchestra, Günter Buchwald will accompany The Half-Breed on the Castro’s Mighty Wurlitzer.

In G.W. Pabst’s “The Joyless Street” (1925), two women from the same poor neighborhood try to better themselves during the period of Austrian postwar hyperinflation.  Marie becomes a prostitute while Grete (Greta Garbo in her final European film before she was snapped up by MGM in Hollywood) does not.  Photo: courtesy Filmmuseum München

In G.W. Pabst’s “The Joyless Street” (1925), two women from the same poor neighborhood try to better themselves during the period of Austrian postwar hyperinflation. Marie becomes a prostitute while Grete (Greta Garbo in her final European film before she was snapped up by MGM in Hollywood) does not. Photo: courtesy Filmmuseum München

Saturday: sensational restoration THE JOYLESS STREET – Germany 1925

Not only one of the most important films of Weimar-era Germany, The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse) is also one of the most spectacular censorship cases of the era. The story from the inflationary period in Vienna in the years immediately after World War I was considered too much of a provocation with its juxtaposition of haves and have nots and its frank sexuality. G.W. Pabst’s film was twice shortened by the German censors and other countries made cuts or outright banned the film. This painstaking restoration, supervised by Stefan Drössler for Filmmuseum München, has reconstructed the film as close as possible to Pabst’s intention.  “Tons of research went into trying to figure out what the original film actually was,” explained Anita Monga.  “It is not completely clear because this film was circulated around to different countries that received different parts and versions due to censorship, so the issues of continuity and what belonged and what didn’t was a huge challenge.  The Munich archive did extensive research and gathered materials from around the world and put together what they  feel is the most comprehensive restoration of the film, making it longer but also what we feel is the most complete version.  In terms of the acting, the film has the Danish actress, Asta Nielsen, who was huge, an international star who made over 70 films in Germany but she’s not well known in the States because her work was considered too erotic and was heavily censored in the U.S.   And there’s Garbo.  Her performance in Gosta Berling’s Saga (1924), which really launched her career, caught the eye of Pabst who then brought her in to this film, where she is wonderful.  This was just her second feature performance which occurred just before she left Europe for Hollywood in 1925.”  The Joyless Street will play Saturday, July 20th at 8:30 PM. The extraordinary Matti Bye Ensemble will perform their original score to accompany The Joyless Street.

Sunday: a story set around our own San Francisco Chronicle THE LAST EDITION – USA 1925

One of the few surviving films created by Emory Johnson in the mid-1920’s, The Last Edition stars veteran actor Ralph Lewis as a pressman at the San Francisco Chronicle who has been denied a well-deserved promotion by his boss, publisher Jerome Hamilton (Louis Payne).  The film’s last known screening was on November 28, 1930, in Utrecht, the Netherlands, so Sunday’s premiere of its new restoration is a cause for celebration.  For those with an interest in history in San Francisco history, this gem is filmed on location in and around the Chronicle pressroom with major footage of Market Street, Civic Center and Mission Street and includes a thrilling car chase throughout the City as newsmen valiantly tackle the forces of corruption.  The film was unearthed in an archive in the Netherlands two years ago and was in poor condition due to having been shot on highly-degradable nitrate film.  Its painstaking two-year restoration is a collaboration between the archive, Eye Film Institute Netherlands and the film festival.  Leading silent film accompanist Stephen Horne will be on piano to accompany the screening of this film Sunday, July 21st at 3:30 PM.

Sunday:  Aleksander Rodchenko’s newly discovered trailer for Dziga Vertov’s THE ELEVENTH YEAR with the world premiere of the musical score performed by Beth Custer and Ken Winokur

Ken Winokur of the Alloy Orchestra made an amazing discovery while the orchestra was traveling in the Ukraine—a two-minute trailer for Dziga Vertov’s THE ELEVENTH YEAR, created by famed Constructivist artist Aleksander Rodchenko.  As a special gift to San Francisco, Winokur and Beth Custer will perform the World Premiere of their score accompanying Vertov’s trailer on Sunday, July 21, just before the 6 p.m. screening of THE WEAVERS.

Winokur describes his find:

In May of this year, while traveling in the Ukraine with Alloy Orchestra, I had the great pleasure of visiting the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Centre (the Ukrainian National Film Archive). Located in a building that once, during the Soviet Era, housed a massive film processing lab, the archive has rapidly developed into an impressive collection of films, particularly films of the Ukraine. The curators at the archive seem to have a special interest in silent films, and also run the Mute Nights, Silent Film festival, every June in Odessa Ukraine.

Shortly before leaving the archive, curator Stas Menzelevskyi, beckoned me to look at a film he had on his computer.  He explained that it was a trailer for the Dziga Vertov film THE ELEVENTH YEAR, and that it is believed to be animated and directed by Aleksander Rodchenko, a noted graphic designer and one of the founders of the Constructivist movement in the Soviet Union.  I was stunned! This 2 minute film is like nothing I have ever seen from the silent era. Swirling circles, and dancing stick figures—the film looks more like something from the summer of love in San Francisco than a film from the 1920s.

Stay tuned to ARThound for more festival coverage

Full festival schedule—Chronological View and Calendar View

Details: The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival is July 18-21, 2013 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco.  Festival passes are available at McRoskey Mattress Company (1687 Market St., S.F.) and online at www.silentfilm.org.   Tickets: $15 to $25 for parties; $185 to $220 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.

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July 16, 2013 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