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Geneva Anderson digs into art

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.

 

 

 

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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

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

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

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

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

The annual festival, the largest in the country, is held every July at the Castro Theatre and is sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the artistic, cultural and historic value of silent film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: sensational restoration THE JOYLESS STREET – Germany 1925

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

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

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

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

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

Winokur describes his find:

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

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

Stay tuned to ARThound for more festival coverage

Full festival schedule—Chronological View and Calendar View

Details: The 18th San Francisco Silent Film Festival is July 18-21, 2013 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco.  Festival passes are available at McRoskey Mattress Company (1687 Market St., S.F.) and online at www.silentfilm.org.   Tickets: $15 to $25 for parties; $185 to $220 for passes. Click here to purchase all tickets and passes. Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org

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

July 16, 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