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Geneva Anderson digs into art

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.

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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