San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2011 – Day 4 and Closing Night

Program 1: Russian program

Chess Fever by Pudovkin

I was surprised to see that the Russians, in their Soviet era filmmaking, were able to have just as many funny gags as the American comedians of the time. Chess fever is about Russia mad with chess, specifically focusing on one man who allows chess to take over his mind and destroy his marriage-to-be. Very funny overall – by the director of Mother.

Nail In The Boot by Mikhail Kalatozov

This was the featured film in this program, that as Anita Monga explained in the introduction, had to scour the earth for after seeing it in another film festival. It’s a very interesting film – banned in the Soviet Union essentially for its artistically made style. The photography is fantastic and heavily stylized – using angles of people’s faces in interesting and occasionally strange ways. In the end, we learn the great lesson: poor bootmakers are equally guilty as cowards.

Program 2

The Man Who Gets Slapped

What a dark film! I was pleased by the tone of this pair between Victor Sjöström (Seastrom as they’d have it) and MGM throughout. An intellectual who gets betrayed by the people whom he trusted most becomes a masochistic clown who gets slapped to make people laugh. The dark atmosphere was punctuated by the once more spectacular Matti Bye ensemble. It is rare to see a film of this era which goes so deeply into the grotesque darkness of a man’s soul; he does not lose his humanity, but rather becomes warped by his trauma. In the end, the film seems rather to be a film about ultimate revenge… “the last laugh” as the film said, while posing to be about love. Instead, love inspires revenge and the revenge is surprisingly cruel and brutal.

The Silent Film Festival was a privilege to view. All of the prints that I witnessed were of the highest quality, the music was top-notch, and one could tell that the specific films were hand picked for their quality despite occasional obscurity. Like director Alexander Payne said in his opening for The Man Who Gets Slapped, “I too have become a lifer.”  Until next year, SFSFF!

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Categories: Festivals, Silent Film Festival

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