San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2011 – Day 3

The third day continued to deliver high quality accompaniment to high quality prints of high quality films.

Program 1

Orphan Film – Tribal Law

This film was an interesting little novelty from the archive about Native Americans – a woman is kidnapped, so a man tries to save her and rides away. The highlight of the piece was the sign pointing one way to “United States” and the other way to “Mexico”.

Main Feature – The Blizzard

This is a Swedish silent film by director Mauritz Stiller (of Erotikon fame.) I found this film highly interesting; the plot is not particularly predictable or typical. The film dubs itself a “saga,” and deserves the appellation – it carries over five parts, following a boy through manhood. He obsesses over the memory and legacy of his grandfather and wants nothing more than to live up to his reputation.  He learns the violin as a result – to the dismay of his mother. I will not summarize the plot, but some of the main themes were that of art and love versus economy – in the end art saved the day (told through an interesting foreshadowed allusion to Faust.) The film contains a bit of his depth into madness, which was interesting, and then it all ties together with a very funny and satisfying ending.

The musical accompaniment, the Matti Bye ensemble, was spectacular once again. I wish these people would follow me around and accompany my life, or the bulk of films I see. If they play sometime and you have the ability to see them, you owe it to yourself. Their soundscapes are unique, fitting, and enormously flexible to any situation.

Program 2

Main Feature – The Goose Woman

I liked this film. Having no expectations going into it, I was surprised to find it turn somewhat quickly into a murder mystery.  The characters (with the exception of the son, who seems too enigmatically flat) were unique too – especially the mother, the Goose Woman. She despises her son because when she birthed him, she lost her ability to sing and became a drunken woman who raises geese. At times, the murder mystery portions are suspenseful and one of the interrogation scenes is quite intense due to clever edits. The happy ending is almost ludicrous, but what can you do? It was a common practice of the time. The idea of a mother despising her son was gripping, and perhaps a hint of the more difficult topics that would be discussed in time; in the realm of this film, though, it seems to be pretty easily attributed to the nasty dangers of alcohol.

Stephen Horne’s accompaniment was good as always – it’s very impressive what he does as a solo artist.

Program 3

Orphan Film – Chumming With Chipmunks

This was really enjoyable in its simplicity. All it is, is a man filming as he tricks a chipmunk into becoming his friend by various tactics – giving him various puzzles to reach the final goal of eating a nut. Eventually the chipmunk trusts him enough to run around on his hand.

Main Program – Mr. Fix-It

An early Douglas Fairbanks comedy! This film is escapism at its highest peak and most involved form. Fairbanks’ character has a friend who is sent to England because America is too democratic, but is soon recalled to America because of this and that, and is to be married. Unfortunate this is for him, for he is marrying a woman in England. Fairbanks’ character happily decides to “Fix it!” by assuming a quick bit of identity fraud and posing as his friend, Reginald (they haven’t seen him in fifteen years, so it’s easy enough.) He goes, quickly breaks up his family’s marriages so they can marry who they love, saves a woman and her brothers/sisters from a brothel-master nearby, and starts raising the children. As time goes by, he spots a kidnapping and assumes it’s her getting taken back.  He then goes on a wild chase through the city with the police rushing about. In the end, the police summarily “arrest everybody” and put an end to crime. His bumbling fixing even allows the cat of the house to become the friend of the bird!

And this film was accompanied by the aptly titled “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ. Ah, the true sound of the Castro!

Program 4

The Main Film and Centerpiece – The Woman Men Yearn For

This is one of the early films featuring Marlene Dietrich, and the one where, according to some, “Marlene found Dietrich.”  She certainly did. I must say I found this to be one of the most impressive films I’ve yet seen at this festival as far as filmmaking goes. The Germans had truly mastered the filmmaking craft by the end of the 1920‘s – Curtis Bernhardt’s film is full of flowing, moving camera, reacting perfectly to movement in the screen. The party scenes particularly were well done, with great choreography allowing the camera to move this way and that way, as though it was not there amongst such a throng of people moving about. The acting is all good, the mood is dark and intense; it really felt like a prototypical film noir.

The film’s dark plot unfolds slowly but at points suddenly – a man is to be married, and we see his background for about the first third (including some shots of machinery that would make Vertov proud.) He is going with his fiancée on a trip when suddenly he is struck by the sight of Dietrich’s character, Stascha. He ends up going with her (very easily leaving his wife – possessed by Stascha it may seem) to protect her from a mysterious man accompanying her at her request; the build up of plot is almost entirely restricted to the relationships which develop between these three people. The party scene is really remarkable – such a juxtaposition of moods and feelings in a chaos of happy spirits, augmented by the free-flowing camera movements.

The musical accompaniment for this film was the great Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra for their sole performance of the festival. Many times I felt like I was hearing an impossibly high quality soundtrack playing from the film and had to look over at the performers playing. Absolutely wonderful music which followed the film impeccably, capitalizing on various points and in the process showing an understanding of the moods of the film as though they had taken part in its creation.

It’s no secret that I am immensely enjoying this festival.

Tomorrow’s showings (the last day! Be there!)

10:00 am – Amazing Tales from the Archives II
12 noon – Shoes
2:00 pm – Wild and Weird
4:30 pm – The Nail in the Boot
7:30 pm – He Who Gets Slapped

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Categories: Festivals, Silent Film Festival

One Comment on “San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2011 – Day 3”

  1. Gary Hobish
    July 19, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    “Many times I felt like I was hearing an impossibly high quality soundtrack playing from the film and had to look over at the performers playing.”

    As Sound Guy for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for 12 years, this is exactly the synergism of silent film and musical performance I strive to achieve. Thanks for supporting the San Francisco Silent Film Festival!

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