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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.

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

At San Francisco’s 21st Silent Film Festival, Something for Everyone─through Sunday

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

The 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival features 18 silent feature films and runs June 2-6, 2016, at the historic Castro Theatre. The festival closes Sunday evening with Victor Fleming’s 1919 masterpiece “When the Clouds Roll By”, one of Douglas Fairbanks’ last “Coat and Tie” romantic comedies before his switch to larger pictures where he earned the role of the screen’s most dazzling swashbuckler. Fairbanks plays Boone Brown, a superstitious young New Yorker who becomes a guinea pig in a series of mind-control experiments conducted by his boss, Doctor Ulrich Metz (Herbert Grimwood), who happens to be a sadistic quack. The film was made during an era when Americans were obsessed with psychoanalysis. The film’s special effects are exceptional. When Brown eats a meal that gives him indigestion, the process is represented by onions, lobsters and pie slices dancing merrily in his stomach. His dreams and fantasies are handled with very creative trick and slow-motion photography. And Fairbanks, who was always in top shape, performs a few of his fabled physical feats. Image: San Francisco Silent Film Society

With the proliferation of film festivals in the Bay Area, each offering an overwhelming selection, it’s hard to feel that any one of them is really that special.  Here’s one that truly is.  The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), now in its 21st year, which kicked off Thursday at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Sunday.  This long weekend of silents is the country’s top silent festival and people come from all over the world to experience its magic.  This is silent film as it was meant to be seen─on the big screen with live musical accompaniment and informative introductions by experts and with an enthusiastic audience.  This year’s festival offers a treasure trove of discoveries, rediscoveries and restorations─18 full-length feature films from all over the world.  And on Sunday, there’s a dazzling Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema program, curated by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, that will present exquisite clips of hand painting, dyeing and stencil coloring from another 15 early short color films. 

This year, there is an emphasis on film restoration.   “We’ve gradually been dipping our toe into film restoration,” said festival director Anita Monga.  “Now, we’re actually participating in restoration efforts.  Our board president, Rob Byrne graduated from the EYE Film Institute’s preservation program and now he’s an itinerant restoration guy.  This year, we have five films that we have been directly involved in restoring─René Clair’s (The Italian Straw Hat (Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie)(1928) and his Les Deux Timides (1928) both in partnership with the Cinémathèque Française; Irvin Willat’s Behind the Door (1919) in collaboration with the Library of Congress and Gosfilmofond of Russia; the hilarious 1926 Richard Wallace short film, What’s the World Coming To? in collaboration with Carleton University and New York University.  This film is part of our Sunday program on early cross-dressing Girls Will be Boys.  Finally, there’s Willis Robards’ 1917 suffrage film, Mothers of Men, in collaboration with the Library of Congress, the British Film Institute, and film archivist James Mockoski.”

The Festival’s wonderful historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling keeps me coming back year after year.  When you see these films, you actually forget they’re silent and become engrossed in the wonderful stories. And the enthusiastic and well informed audience is an added bonus.  Do plan ahead: battling the traffic to get into the City and then to find parking is a huge a factor in the decision to attend an event or not.  I recommend choosing one day on the weekend and coming in for two or three films.  On Sunday, you can park on most streets in the Castro in one spot for the entire day without having to reload your meter or move your car.  On Saturday, you’re off the clock after 6PM. 

Highlights of this year’s festival include:

Saturday, June 4, 12:00 PM  The Strongest (Den starkaste)

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season's seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship "Viking." Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Set and shot in the Arctic Ocean, Swedish directors’ Alf Sjöberg and Axel Lindblom’s “Den Starkaste” (The Strongest) is an armchair traveler’s dream. The story follows Skipper Larsen and his assistant, the itinerant sailor, Ole, who are planning the season’s seal and bear-hunting trip to Spetzbergen with the ship “Viking.” Ole is interested in Larsen’s daughter, Ingeborg and the rivalry between the two men leads to stand-off in a frozen world under the midnight sun. The film team traveled to the ice-covered waters surrounding Bear Island and Spetzbergen for a three-month-long hunting and filming expedition with the idea of financing the film through bear and seal hunting. In the end, the crew proved to be miserable at hunting but the film is breathtaking. Accompanied by the acclaimed Matti Bye Ensemble, which makes an appearance at the festival almost every year. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society

Saturday, June 4, 5:15 PM  Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates

A scene from Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates” (1920), the earliest surviving film made by an African American director. The film explores racism and stereotypes as it follows an African American woman who goes North to raise money for a school in the rural South . Her romance with a black doctor eventually leads to revelations about her family’s past and her own European, mixed-race ancestry. The film is a direct refutation of DW Griffith’s 1915 racist epic, “The Birth of a Nation.” Oakland Symphony conductor Michael Morgan will conduct Adolphus Hailstork’s special musical score that was commissioned for last September’s “Birth of an Answer” (BOAA) event in Virginia which celebrated African American responses to Griffith’s film. Seven string players and 22 members of the chorus from the Oakland Symphony will perform. Image: courtesy San Francisco Silent Film Society.

 

Sunday, June 5, 10:00 AM Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

Sunday’s “Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema” program at the 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will offer a breathtaking display of the beauties of hand-colored cinema, from the era preceding Technicolor. Shimmering, iridescent examples of hand-painting, dyeing and stencil coloring have been drawn from the collection of Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum and include samples from 15 early short color films. Clips from early trick films and travelogues include images of Dutch windmills silhouetted against a crimson-burnished sunset, promenading Parisians, the fountains of Versailles and Algeria’s dance of the Ouled Naïl, a form of Berber belly dancing which originated in the remote Atlas Montains. (An image from Segundo de Chomón’s “Les Tulipes” (The Tulips), 1907, courtesy SFSFF.

 

Full 2016 Festival Schedule

Details: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival runs Thursday, June 2, 2016 through Sunday, June 5, 2016 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco. Tickets: $16 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 near the Castro Theatre.  Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.

 

June 2, 2016 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

May 26, 2015 Posted by | Chamber Music, Classical 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

ARThound looks at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Sunday line-up

Johann Sigurjonson’s classic “The Outlaw and His Wife,” newly-restored by the Swedish Film Institute, screens Sunday at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  Edith Erastoff plays the strong widow, Halla, who falls in love with drifter Berg-Eyvind, played by Victor Sjöström.  Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

Johann Sigurjonson’s classic “The Outlaw and His Wife,” newly-restored by the Swedish Film Institute, screens Sunday at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Edith Erastoff plays the strong widow, Halla, who falls in love with drifter Berg-Eyvind, played by Victor Sjöström. Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival wraps this Sunday with a program worth devoting the entire day to.  The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands and old customs is always a huge draw.  This year, they have outdone themselves.  Victor Sjöström’s The Outlaw and His Wife (1918), newly restored by the Swedish Film Institute, and German director Friedrich Zelnik’s The Weavers (1927), based on actual weaver uprisings of 1892, are both screening on Sunday afternoon. And just before The Weavers, the festival is gifting the audience with a screening of Aleksander Rodchenko’s newly discovered short trailer for Dziga Vertov’s The Eleventh Year (1928), along with the world premiere of the musical score performed by Beth Custer and Ken Winokur. Sunday afternoon also includes the world premiere of the restoration of Emory Johnson’s The Last Editon (1925), focused around the San Francisco Chronicle and featuring rich historical footage of San Francisco.  The day begins and ends with two classic comedies—in the morning, Kings of Silent Comedy is a delightful pastiche of comedy clips featuring the titans of the silent era and, at 9 p.m., the festival close with Safety Last! (1923) featuring Harold Lloyd, one of the masters of silent-era comedy.

Johann Sigurjonson’s classic “The Outlaw and His Wife,” newly-restored by the Swedish Film Institute, is one of cinema’s great romances.  Edith Erastoff plays the widow, Halla, who falls in love with drifter Berg-Eyvind, played by Victor Sjöström, and gives everything up to run away with him.  Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

Johann Sigurjonson’s classic “The Outlaw and His Wife,” newly-restored by the Swedish Film Institute, is one of cinema’s great romances. Edith Erastoff plays the widow, Halla, who falls in love with drifter Berg-Eyvind, played by Victor Sjöström, and gives everything up to run away with him. Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

The Outlaw and His Wife (Berg-Ejvind och Hans Hhustru) (Sweden, 1918, ~105 min)

Adapted from a play by Johann Sigurjonson, director Victor Sjöström’s Berg-Ejvind och Hans Hhustru is one of Swedish cinema’s first major films. The 1918 silent drama features dramatic footage of vast expanses of wild nature and is one of the finest examples of Sigurjonson’s life-long exploration of the theme of spirituality’s connection to nature and the elements.  It is also hailed as a work of remarkable psychological complexity, which had a strong influence on the work of Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer.  It stars Victor Sjöström (Bergman’s Wild Strawberries) as Berg-Eyvind, a drifter who begins working on the farm of a generous and extremely self-sufficient widow named Halla (Edith Erastoff).  The couple falls in love only to have it revealed that Berg-Eyvind is a thief on the run. When a jealous rival alerts authorities to Eyvind’s true identity, the lovers escape together into the mountains of Iceland where they manage to eke-out a rather enviable existence until they are discovered by another fugitive and the story takes a very dark turn.  “The film is incredible love story that takes place in a beautiful vista and it’s based on an old Icelandic tale, with amazing cinematography and story,” said SFSFF director Anita Monga.  “It just had its premiere last week at Il Cinema Ritrovato, the Bologna Film Festival, and now it’s here for its second-ever screening after its restoration.”  The Matti Bye Ensemble from Sweden provides musical accompaniment. (Screens Sunday, July 20, at 1 p.m.)

Friedrich Zelnik’s “The Weavers” (1927) (Die Weber) dramatizes a Silesian cotton weavers uprising of 1844 and features intertitles designed and hand-drawn by George Grosz.  Pictured: Theodor Loos (in white shirt), Wilhelm Dieterle (in beret), Herta von Walther (bending), Dagny Servaes (woman on the right).  Photo: courtesy of F.W. Murnau Stiftung

Friedrich Zelnik’s “The Weavers” (1927) (Die Weber) dramatizes a Silesian cotton weavers uprising of 1844 and features intertitles designed and hand-drawn by George Grosz. Pictured: Theodor Loos (in white shirt), Wilhelm Dieterle (in beret), Herta von Walther (bending), Dagny Servaes (woman on the right). Photo: courtesy of F.W. Murnau Stiftung

The Weavers (Die Weber) (Germany, 1927, ~ 97 min)

Friedrich Zelnik’s The Weavers is based on the 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptman dramatizing a Silesian cotton weavers uprising of 1844.  The film was once known as the German Potemkin.  It is a high budget German drama focused on class struggle, a subject matter that resonated closely with epic works of Soviet cinema.  The film has a strong sense of drama and tragedy and shows the poor workers being exploited by the rich manufacturers and the devastation which ensues when the crowd degrades into a mob which destroys the textile magnate’s manor and proceeds to break the textile machines which threaten the traditional livelihood of the weavers. Some of the workers refuse to participate in the revolt but are harmed nonetheless.  Its creators downplayed its radical message, but The Weavers resonated with viewers in 1927 whose social reality reflected a chasm between rich and poor.  “This is a very rousing film,” said Anita Monga. The incident itself had a major impact throughout the world and it was a touchstone for Marx and Engels writing the Communist Manifesto

The excellent 2012 restoration, by F. W. Murnau Stiftung and Transit Film GmbH, showcases the work of the great graphic designer George Grosz, from his animal vignettes in the opening credit sequence and continuing with the animated graphic design of the intertitles which goes further than in Metropolis: there is a 3D mobile approach to certain key sentences which become moving lettrist vignettes.  The standoff scene between the revolutionary crowd and the police and military are epic.  Musical accompaniment is by the acclaimed Günter Buchwald, the director of the Silent Movie Music Company and conductor of the Freiburg Filmharmonic Orchestra, which he founded in 1992. Buchwald has incorporated a very Brechtian folksong into the accompaniment. (Screens Sunday, July 20, at 6 p.m.)

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. (For ARThound’s previous coverage of this, click here.)

In 2011, the last surviving copy of Emory Johnson’s “The Last Edition” (1925), whose story is set around the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, was found in the Netherlands.  The world premiere of the new restoration is Sunday, July 21, 2013 at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  Image: courtesy SFSFF.

In 2011, the last surviving copy of Emory Johnson’s “The Last Edition” (1925), whose story is set around the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, was found in the Netherlands. The world premiere of the new restoration is Sunday, July 21, 2013 at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Image: courtesy SFSFF.

The Last Edition (USA, 1925, 105 min)

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.  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 was a collaboration between the archive, Eye Film Institute Netherlands and the film festival.  Leading silent film accompanist Stephen Horne will be on piano. (Screens Sunday, July 21, 3:30 p.m.)

Harold Lloyd’s romantic silent comedy “Safety Last” (1923) closes the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and includes one of silent film’s most iconic images—Lloyd clutching the hands of a giant clock while dangling from ledge of a skyscraper above moving traffic.  Lloyd’s performance cemented his status as one of the leading figures in early motion pictures.  The film's title is a play on the expression, "safety first," which emphasizes safety as the primary means of avoiding accidents.  Image: courtesy SFSFF.

Harold Lloyd’s romantic silent comedy “Safety Last!” (1923) closes the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and includes one of silent film’s most iconic images—Lloyd clutching the hands of a giant clock while dangling from ledge of a skyscraper above moving traffic. Lloyd’s performance cemented his status as one of the leading figures in early motion pictures. The film’s title is a play on the expression, “safety first,” which emphasizes safety as the primary means of avoiding accidents. Image: courtesy SFSFF.

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 20, 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

Frank Hurley’s silent masterpiece “South,” from 1919, an unforgettable journey with Ernest Shackleton on his famed Antarctic expedition, screens Saturday at San Francisco’s Silent Film Festival

Australian filmmaker Frank Hurley’s “South,” chronicling Ernest Shackleton’s epic journey in the Endurance at the outbreak of World War I, screens Saturday at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The Endurance, trapped in an enormous ice pack in the Weddell Sea, drifted northward throughout the Antarctic winter of 1915. Image courtesy: SFSFF

Journeys, real and metaphorical, are what fuel our human soul. And there’s nothing like film to poetically transport us to times and places we’d never have thought of going.  With his 1919 silent film masterpiece South, Australian photographer Frank Hurley risked his life many times over to bring British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s famed Antarctic expedition in the Endurance to life, capturing the very heart of human imagination and documenting one of the greatest survival stories of all time.  He also created a suite of iconic images, moving and still, which set a new standard for documentary photography.  Now restored by BFI, with the original tints and toning, South screens Saturday, July 14, 2012, at 5 p.m at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre as part of the 17th San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF).   Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano, Paul McGann will introduce the film and read Shackleton’s letters to Horne’s elegiac score.

Were it not for Frank Hurley’s remarkable images, and his persistence against all odds, the story may have never reached the widespread audience that it did, nor have captured our imaginations as it has.  The self-taught Frank Hurley had an instinctive sense of the power of photography and went on pioneering voyages all over the world—from the Antarctic to Papua New Guinea to Israel and he served as official photographer with Australian forces during both world wars.  He made two remarkable and grueling journeys to Antarctica, first with Douglas Mawson’s 1911 expedition and then with the great polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in the Endurance at the very outbreak of World War I.  After the race to the South Pole had been won by Roald Amundson and Robert Falcon Scott in 1912, Shackleton fixed his sites higher—he would attempt the first transcontinental crossing of Antarctica.  His third polar expedition–the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17, for which Hurley was the official photographer, would be an attempt to walk across the frozen continent and its polar region with  a crew of 27 men.  Filmed in what might be the most adverse climatic conditions imaginable, Hurley managed to go beyond documenting the failed journey to creating images of great artistry, depicting the ship’s crew struggling for life on giant ice flows at the literal ends of the earth.

The remarkable thing about South is that, with its glorious cinematography, it imparts an amazing sense of the chaos, raw beauty and flow of nature— something to ponder as global warming takes its toll on our beleaguered planet.  It also captures that great era of late 19th and early 20thcentury colonial exploration for territory—the great risks and exhilarating highs involved in signing on for a pioneering expedition.

Hurley’s magnificently composed shots never crease to amaze.  The luminous, shimmering effects of the light on enormous ice masses that had turned the sea into a kaleidoscope of endlessly fascinating shapes captures both the romance and ominous danger of the journey.  Poignant shots of the ship alone, against an immensity of sea and sky, give the viewer a vivid experience of confronting pure oblivion.  And, while hanging from the ship’s mast, or trekking some distance to capture the Endurance gripped in the crushing ice that would force the crew to abandon it, Hurley manages to achieve proper exposure of sea, boat and sky—daunting!

The crushed Endurance sinking, reduced to a mass of tangled ropes and spars,  is an iconic moment that Hurley carefully rendered.  Using the line of dogs in the foreground to add scale and to anchor the composition, we wonder how Hurley did kept his composure under the most extreme pressure.  Even after the ship sank, Hurley continued to photograph, instinctively sensing the real drama was just getting started.  And after weeks on the utterly barren Elephant Island when the men must have had some of their darkest days, Hurley kept busy, filming wildlife shots of various seals and sea creatures, some of which are now endangered or extinct.   Hurley’s shots of the Yelcho coming into view on the horizon, as members of the joyous Elephant Island crew build a smoky fire to signal her, tell it all.

So thorough was Hurley’s commitment to recording the journey,  that just a few months after his rescue, he returned to South Georgia Island to make additional photos and film footage, attempting to capture the part of the expedition that he had missed while trapped on Elephant Island.

South is well worth the trek into San Francisco to the glorious Castro Theatre.

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.

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.

Parking Alert:  If you plan on coming by car, street parking in the only available parking.  Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking and walking to/from the theatre.

July 14, 2012 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

Interview: renowned artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, talks about his “Napoleon” poster, especially commissioned for the U.S. premiere of Abel Gance’s reconstructed silent film masterpiece

New York artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, who created the poster for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's exclusive screenings of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” signed his posters at Oakland’s elegant Paramount Theatre on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Abel Gance’s riveting silent film, “Napoleon,” presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), has taken the Bay Area by storm—and there are just two remaining opportunities to catch the reconstructed classic: this Saturday and Sunday at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.  Equally amazing is the film’s poster, essentially a huge portrait of Napoleon, evoking the tri-colored French flag, created especially for the event by legendary artist and illustrator Paul Davis.  Even if you’re not familiar with Paul Davis, you’re likely familiar with Paul Davis’ work, especially if you went to any Broadway or off-Broadway shows in the 1970’s or 80’s, where you would have seen his posters, or if you read magazines like Time, Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Esquire, etc., where he’s done both illustrations and covers.   When the prestigious Centre Georges Pompidou opened in Paris in 1977, Davis was the first American artist to show his work there—his solo show was part of the museum’s opening festivities.  His artwork is also included in  MOMA’s poster collection.  His career spans 50 plus years and his creative voice has helped define that world where art, illustration, design and typography all spill brilliantly into each other.  

His Napoleon poster, too, is sure to become a classic: on the top is an evocative portrait of a young Napoleon, the man who would defend a nation during its greatest Revolution.  Executed in rich hues of blue, with strands of seafoam hair framing his pensive face, the young leader stares imperiously—right at you and right through you.  On the bottom, in red, there’s a subtle use of an epic battle scene from Napoleon’s Italian campaign which closes the film.  Blazoned across the center in a gorgeous typeface called Eagle is “Napoleon” set off by a white backdrop.  Full size posters and window placards are all around the Bay Area and, last weekend, a few were brought to Sonoma County.  

Bruce Goldstein, of New York’s Film Forum, on the advisory board for SFSFF and handling the national publicity for the Napoleon event, suggested Davis for the poster.  “All Paul’s posters have a real psyche,” said Goldstein, who first worked with Davis in the late 1990’s, when his company, Rialto Pictures, commissioned him to do the poster for the special re-release of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion (1937), one of the greatest movies of all time.  “We needed something special, not a run of the mill poster, and Paul Davis, was the illustrator who came to mind who was worthy of Grand Illusion.  And he delivered!  I might also add that his image for Grand Illusionbecame the very first image used as a DVD cover by the Criterion Collection, which was quite an honor for Criterion.”

 “Most movie posters today, even those for so-called art house films, are filled with clichés—it’s just ridiculous,” said Goldstein.  “We didn’t want the Napoleon poster to be an advertisement but rather an enduring work of art in the tradition of the great poster designers of the 19th century, like Toulouse-Lautrec.  You’ll see textual information, which had to be there, but you won’t see any critical quotes on this poster.”

“A poster makes an incredible impression and it’s really a very important factor in the decision to go and see a film,” said Anita Monga, Artistic Director, San Francisco Silent Film Festival, “This is an artwork that makes you want to see the film and that you’ll want to have afterwards to commemorate the screening.  It’s all we’re using.”

I couldn’t wait to speak with Davis about his poster and I caught up with him at last Friday’s dress rehearsal for Napoleon at the Paramount Theatre.

How did you approach a poster design project like this?

Paul Davis:  I first saw the film in 1981, when it was at Radio City Music Hall with a live orchestra and it was quite dramatic.  I remember that feeling of being swept up in it, the emotions, but not so many of the details.  I managed to download the whole thing from the internet on my computer and I really looked at it and that’s where I got most of my reference material from too.  I knew I was going to do a portrait of Napoleon right away.  It was really hard to find that right image–I did a half a dozen portraits before I did this one.   This was from a frame right out of the film itself.

The creative process also has a lot to do with intention.  When I set out to do something like this, I go to the material and I go as deeply as I can go, finding out what moves me and working off of that.  I started on this project last summer and I had several versions and that’s how it’s done.  Sometimes there’s a great film and it really suffers from this lack of attention and that always mystifies me.

Why are so many movie posters today absolute turn-offs?

I ask myself that all the time.  You can look at a movie poster and you say, ‘I know that genre; I don’t want to see the movie.’  But these designers so often miss the point of the movie—they’re so interested in making sure that you know the genre and in capturing a given audience that they are unwilling to experiment in capturing what’s actually moving about that film.  As a result, a lot of posters are negative advertising.     

A film frame of French actor, screenwriter, film director and novelist Albert Dieudonné, who plays the adult Napoleon in Abel Gance’s silent film “Napoléon,” was the basis of artist Paul Davis’ limited edition poster that was commissioned by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for its special Bay Area screenings of the newly restored masterpiece. Image: courtesy SFSFF

For me, what works about the Napoleon image you’ve created is that he is both looking at us and right through us, as if he’s fixed on more important things, which seems so appropriate.  We have a glimpse of his internal world and there’s an almost filmic saturation of the colors. 

Paul Davis:  I do try to capture as much of the character as I can.  There is an emotional quality as well.  He’s looking out into the world.  He was such an unusual character, so very confident and such a leader.   People don’t do what he did without tremendous courage, audacity, and arrogance.  

In terms of a subject for a portrait, it’s hard to take your eyes off Albert Dieudonné−those penetrating eyes and his total embodiment of a complex and driven personality.  

Paul Davis:   Actually, they weren’t sure they were going to cast him; he really had to convince Gance, who thought he was too old.  He dressed up in the uniform and went over to visit him―they were friends―and he got the part.

The portrait that is so familiar of Napoleon though, that is in everyone’s mind, is the one of Napoleon with his hands in his coat, with that kind of permanent scowl, which is so grim.  I wanted to make the poster a likeness of Dieudonné, with an echo of what we all know about Napoleon−that fierce grin on his face.  Actually, if you look closely at the poster, at the face, you’ll a great difference in the whites of his eyes too.  If you look at people’s faces and divide them, there are two different people in everyone.    

So the inspiration is a film still, but you had a real vision of what it should convey.

Paul Davis:  Well, I took the frames I liked off the film, literally hundreds and hundreds of them, and then I loaded them all in iPhoto and I studied them.  I was really looking for very subtle types of emotion and when I finally arrived at that, I printed those out and drew from a few of those.  I actually made several finished portraits.  I was trying to depict that moment when he internalizes that he is the revolution, with him gazing upwards and having the light come from behind his head.  I was working and working with that but I couldn’t get it―it wasn’t convincing.  The one that I chose was the last one that I made.  I knew I had it because it did everything I wanted it to do.

Beyond the idea of a portrait, how did you approach designing this?

For the battle scene at the bottom, I started with a chaotic scene from the film but it was so blurry and it didn’t have everything I wanted, so I started inserting figures and objects into that, that you could read and identify.

Would you say you’re very influenced by and even dependent on photos? 

Paul Davis:   Of course, but when I do the theatre things, if I could get access, I’ve always tried to take my own photographs and to spend time close to the heart of the performance.  I try to see the person separately so that I can have an idea of their character.   For me, I felt that I need to get to know them.  I attempted that here too, to capture Napoleon’s personality.

Paul Davis designed the limited edition poster for the 1999 theatrical re-release of Jean Renoir's 1937 "Grand Illusion. His same poster image also serves as "Spine #1," the first DVD, for the Criterion Collection's elite collection of classic films. Limited-edition U.S. one-sheet, matte finish, 27 x 40 inches, created for the 1999 theatrical rerelease. image: courtesy Paul Davis

When do you add color?  Also, how did you handle the division of space and how it all comes together?

Paul Davis:  First, I compose the image and the color comes last.  I painted the portrait blue and the battle scene red with Photoshop.  I had the idea for the tricolor from the film itself because, at the end of the film, the screen is tricolor, pretty hard and intense―the left screen is blue; the middle is white; the right is red.  The images are just sort of boiling over those colors and that’s the end of the film.

But before that, I basically have the two images in the computer and I set up the size of the poster and start playing with the scale so that I could make the battle scene wider or narrower or deeper or shallower.  Then, I added the white in the center.  I also had to add all that text at the bottom. At that point, it becomes more technical, just trying to fit everything in.  I knew that I didn’t want any text above his face so I convinced everyone to put the title in the middle and everything else beneath that. 

You’ve chosen a very simple typeface but the color makes it pop.

Paul Davis:   That typeface is “Eagle” and it’s one of my favorites. I don’t pick them by name but there’s an eagle in the movie that keeps appearing, so this is the perfect typeface.  It’s from the 1930’s and it’s very useful and you’d be surprised at how many places in the world that it appears.  Once you start noticing those spiky m’s and n’s and the perfectly round o’s―it’s really gorgeous.  Napoleon has this wonderful “o” in it and “n’s” on both ends and it’s such a great word that really works with that font.

What was the feeling you wanted to evoke though the typeface?

Paul Davis designed the poster for Joseph Papp's 1976 production of "The ThreePenny Opera," by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, starring Raul Julia as Mack, and performed at the 1976 New York Shakespeare Festival. Image courtesy: Paul Davis.

Paul Davis:  I wasn’t trying for nostalgia at all, maybe the opposite.  I tried another typeface of Cassandre’s (pseudonym of the legendary French artist Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron) called “Bifur.”  Cassandre was a great poster designer who did all those great 1920’s posters we know of steamships and so forth.  Bifur is an experimental font from that era which I always wanted to use but haven’t yet.  It just didn’t work for the poster, so I used Eagle instead, which is from also that era and from that same period in which Gance was working, that very modern age.  The colorization was handled through Photoshop.

Sounds like you reply on your iPhone, Photoshop and the new design tools.

Paul Davis:  Photoshop, an Apple computer, iPhone and quite a lot of software—it’s all standard for artists now.  The only thing that is a little unusual about the work that I do is that I also do a lot of illustration and I also do design.  The illustrators all want to know if I had to learn about type and the type designers all want to know if they have to learn about drawing.   My attitude is why wouldn’t they want to know−it’s like consciously choosing to remain crippled. 

Your website has a fabulous gallery of work.  I recognize several of these images.  Which are your favorites?

Paul Davis:   The early theatre posters I did for Joe Papp―The Three Penny Opera and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.   Those were the first real theatre posters I did.  That was over 30 years ago.  I did most of these within a year or two of each other and I was exploring new ground and I was very receptive to trying many different things for new effects.  To kind of begin a career with an opportunity like this was really good because it gave me the chance to do the type of work that I wanted to do.

How many movie posters have you done and how are they different from your theatre posters?

Paul Davis:  There are different contractual agreements.  In terms of film posters, I’ve done:  Small Circle of Friends (Rob Cohen, 1980, starring Brad Davis, Karen Allen and Jameson Parker), Secret Friends (Dennis Potter, 1992, starring Alan Bates),  Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937, starring Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo, Pierre Fresnay, Eric von Stroheim) and Napoleon.  I’ve done quite a lot of sketches for movie posters that were rejected and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do them.  We’re doing another Grand Illusion poster for the 75th anniversary.  They are doing a digital version of the original print, so I’m doing that too.

What makes a movie poster work for you?

Paul Davis:  I really love the posters from the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s.  They had very exciting graphics but they weren’t taken very seriously in terms of being an art form.  Some movies had as many as 1,000 printed pieces that went with them to the exhibitor and, to capture different audiences, they would do two and three posters for some movies.  They would also put little contests into the posters too to find out whether people were actually looking at them.  They would print small things like, “Mention this when you come to the theatre and you’ll get a prize.”  I was amazed at how intense some of these posters were and how creatively they were designed and how they made real statements.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s, they used some of the very best artists in New York for these—like Al Hirshfeld.  When it came to prizes, these artists never won any prizes for these things because I think they were considered kind a low form of art.   That whole era, when they were churning them out and were so experimental, is very exciting for me.

Paul Davis’ 1968 portrait of Che Guevara, based on a photograph by Alberto Korda, became the February cover of liberal “Evergreen Review.” The public response was instant and intense—copies of the poster were defaced and a bomb was thrown into the Evergreen offices. 30 x 45 inches. Image: Paul Davis

What poster artists inspire you?  I’ve read that you really appreciate Toulouse Lautrec.  

Paul Davis:  The best posterist at the time was Jules Cheret, known for his rainbow of color…an almost impressionistic splatter of color…but Lautrec, one of the very best artists, really breathed life into his art.   And because he was wealthy, and could do what he wanted, he was such a great artist.  Lautrec, Cheret and Cassandre—the high art they brought to the poster was unexcelled.  So the poster, for me, really starts in France and then it goes to a lot of other places.   I heard that Lautrec used to go and stay in the country with some friends of his and, every day at their house, he would write the menu for dinner and make a drawing and would do this in multiple.  The woman who owned the house would throw them away afterwards.   And apparently he never objected at all to her behavior.  It just makes me sick to think of throwing out those drawings.

What are you working on right now?

Paul Davis:   Two things.  A promotion for a new project about Eleanor Roosevelt (a video) and I really want to do a portrait of Obama for the election. I had this idea four years ago but the Shepard Fairey inauguration poster just swamped everything and it was so good, very graphic, and you really remember it.  I also thought I ought to do a poster of Mitt Romney too, just to be fair.  Norman Rockwell did this.  He did Nixon and John F. Kennedy and he did Eisenhower and Stevenson and he would do these portraits every 4 or 8 years, and he was so even handed.  I really want to do this.

But it sounds like you’re not so interested in being even handed?

Paul Davis:   No.

Do you have any personal connection to Napoleon?

Paul Davis:   Well, I grew up in Oklahoma.  In 1803; Napoleon sold that land, which included Oklahoma and 14 others states, in the Louisiana Purchase to Thomas Jefferson.  If he hadn’t sold this, I might be French today.  So that’s my connection.

If you could somehow go back in time to Napoleon’s era when he was the most important figure in world politics and the frequent subject of caricature, how might you have depicted him?

Paul Davis:  I don’t know what I would have done.  The fact is that they were sending English caricaturists to jail in France for what they did…but the satire back then was quite sophisticated.  I recently saw an image at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in their exhibition, “Caricature and Satire From Leonardo to Levine” of a caricature done by the famous English artist, James Gillray, dated 1805, showing Napoleon and William Pitt, who was England’s Prime Minister, though they didn’t use that title at the time.  The two of them are carving up the world―depicted as a big plum pudding with the Earth drawn on it.  The thing that struck me as fascinating was that Gillray was criticizing the English military mandate in the same way that he was criticizing Napoleon.  You saw Napoleon slicing off Europe and the

The political cartoon first appeared in England. Here two famous individuals, Napoleon and William Pitt, are the butts of the artist James Gillray, who is satirizing both France and England. "The Plumb-pudding in danger-- or State Epicures Taking un Petit Souper" 1805," colored engraving, 240 x 340 mm, British Museum, London. Image courtesy: British Museum.

English guy slicing off another side, like the Americas.  Napoleon was trying to unite Europe and started out with a very noble cause, wanting to bring about real change.  In the beginning, the French Revolution was supposed to bring liberty, equality and fraternity and it did remove a lot of obstacles to progress but it brought along a lot of horrible things as awful people came to power.  Napoleon came in at the end of that and he was lucky that he didn’t get caught up in it, or killed.  He seemed set to really change things but he became a total nepotist and had members of his direct family made kings (of Belgium, Italy and Spain) and that flew in the face of everything the revolution had fought for.  I’m sure I would have found a way to comment on that, but it was also dangerous. 

Paul Davis’ Artwork appearing in film and television:  Paul Davis’ artwork has appeared in many movies and TV shows. When Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason share an apartment in The Goodbye Girl, it is decorated with Davis’s poster for the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Henry V.  Davis’s poster of Che Guevara appears both in Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! and Rob Cohen‘s A Small Circle of Friends.  In the film adaptation of John Guare‘s Six Degrees of Separation, Davis’s mural for New York City’s Arcadia restaurant is featured.  Paul’s iconic poster for the Public Theater production of Three Penny Opera is on the wall of Jonathan Eliot’s apartment in the NBC sitcom The Single Guy. In the 2009 film Precious, Paul’s poster for the 1975 production of Ntozake Shange‘s For Colored Girls adorns the teacher’s apartment.

Click here to purchase a limited edition Napoleon poster by Paul Davis.  (27” x 40”  $30.00 and 11” x 17’ $15.00)  Posters will also be available at all four screenings.

More about Paul Davis:  There’s a very good article by Steven Heller about Paul Davis (click here to read) at AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Paul Davis’ Napoleon poster was printed by Jeff Baltimore of XL Graphics, Inc., in NY.

Napoleon Event Details: 

What:  Silent film historian Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 reconstruction, the most complete possible restoration of 1927 5 ½ hour film in the original 20 frames per second, with the finale in polyvision, requiring 3 screens. The Oakland East Bay Symphony will be conducted by the eminent British composer, Carl Davis, whose score will be the live accompaniment to the film. This is the U.S. premiere for both the reconstruction and the music. 

2 remaining performances: Saturday, March 31, 2012, and Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where: Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Time: All four performances begin at 1:30pm. There will be three intermissions: two 20-minute intermissions and a 1 hour, 45 minute dinner break starting at 5:00pm. View Places to Eat for nearby restaurant recommendations and make reservations in advance.

The film itself is 5½ hours long; with intermissions included, the show will let out at approximately 9:45pm.

Tickets: Buy tickets for all Napoleon performances here.

More Information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abel Gance’s fabled “Napoleon” has arrived”—artist Paul Davis signs his “Napoleon” posters Sunday morning, March 25, 2012, at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre

New York artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, who designed the poster for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's exclusive screenings of Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” will sign posters at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Photo: courtesy Paul Davis

Yesterday’s press screening and final orchestra rehearsal of Abel Gance’s legendary silent film “Napoleon,” was an exhilarating all day affair at Oakland’s magnificent historical Paramount Theatre.  I hadn’t seen “Napoleon” before and was blown away by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow’s restoration of the 1927 silent film classic—which added an additional 30 minutes of found footage and upgraded the film’s image quality substantially (particularly in tinting and toning) since its previous restoration, some 30 years ago.  British composer Carl Davis’  new 5 ½ hour orchestral score,  a pastiche of dramatic and inspirational music from the period and some new material,  was played valiantly and with great emotion by the Oakland East Bay Symphony.   It was also my first opportunity to meet acclaimed New York artist and illustrator, Paul Davis, who designed the limited edition poster for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s four exclusive screenings of this masterpiece, unseen in the U.S. for nearly 30 years.  Davis’ compelling poster, which uses the colors of the French flag, is based on an actual film frame of Albert Dieudonné, the intriguing French actor who brilliantly brought the adult Napoleon to life on screen.  Dieudonné plays Napoleon through age 26, when the film ends, just as the legendary young general is about to lead the French Army into Italy, marking the close of the 18th century.  Napoleon became emperor in 1804 and died in 1821, having undone many of the principles he so ardently fought for as he rallied the people and brought France to glory.   The poster’s lower section, in red, features Davis’ conception of the film’s final battle, which will be shown in its intended and unforgettable Polyvision panoramic version at the Paramount Theatre.

The festival is selling Davis’ iconic poster in two sizes–27” x 40” and 11” x 17’–and Davis will be signing posters on Sunday, March 25, 2012, at the Paramount Theatre from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., just before the film’s second screening at 1:30 p.m.  Admission to the signing is free.

Artist Paul Davis with his Napoleon poster at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre. Davis will be signing his posters, designed especially for the San Francisco Silent Film Society, on Sunday, March 25, 2012. Image: Myrna Davis

Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with Paul Davis about his conception for the poster.  Davis is perhaps best know for his iconic theater posters (including Three Penny Opera and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide…) for producer Joseph Papp.  He also designed the poster for Film Forum’s 1999 screening of the rerelease of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion, hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made.   

Click here to purchase a limited edition Napoleon poster by Paul Davis.  (27” x 40” ($30) and 11” x 17’ ($15)  Posters will also be available at all four screenings.

Davis’ poster can be seen in Petaluma at the Petaluma Arts Center, the Central Market restaurant, Petaluma Pie Company, and Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus in the Mahoney library and Ellis Auditorium.

Napoleon Event Details: 

What: Kevin Brownlow’s 2000 reconstruction, the most complete possible restoration of 1927   5 ½ hour film in the original 20 frames per second, with the final polyvision, requiring 3 screens. The Oakland East Bay Symphony will be conducted by Carl Davis, whose score will be the live accompaniment to the film. This is the U.S. premiere for both the reconstruction and the music.

When: March 24, 25, 31, April 1, 2012

Where: Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Time: All four performances begin at 1:30pm. There will be three intermissions: two 20-minute intermissions and a 1 hour, 45 minute dinner break starting at 5:00pm. View Places to Eat for nearby restaurant recommendations and make reservations in advance.

The film itself is 5½ hours long; with intermissions included, the show will let out at approximately 9:45pm.

Tickets: Buy tickets for all Napoleon performances here.

More Information: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

March 24, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment