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San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014: Days 2 and 3 – Germans, Swedes, Japanese, Russians and Keaton

And so once again the Silent Film Festival came and went.  And with it the privilege and pleasure of watching the best versions of carefully selected films from this bygone era at the fantastic Castro Theatre, a place I often refer to as my church.

The selection was great, as always.  If you missed it this year, stay tuned for next year.  But following are some thoughts I had on a selection of the films that played:

Under The Lantern

UnderLantern.3Gerhard Lamprecht‘s 1928 film is something of a marriage of German Expressionism and German Realism, and thus a fine reflex of the age.  Read More…

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014 – Day 1, “Song of the Fisherman” and Dreyer’s “The Parson’s Widow”

Song of the Fisherman

SongOftheFishermenBeing the first Chinese silent film I have seen, I couldn’t resist the urge to check this one out. It was certainly an interesting film. Immensely tragic, it is a downward spiral of poverty multiplied by misfortune and capitalized by more poverty. At times it seems as though pieces of the film are missing which lead from one point to another, but after some reflection I was not certain if these pieces were another part of the wide use of the ellipsis that this film makes. If so, it shows a level of faith in the visual understanding of the Chinese audiences, at a time when the average American and German counterparts would very likely use strong-armed visual queues or verbose intertitles explaining what was happening. In this, on the other hand, suddenly the father is gone, then suddenly the mother is blind; later on they are suddenly on a boat with the wealthy child they group up with. And so forth. It makes sense, and there were only a few points in which I felt lost, but these were due to some jarring cuts which very likely were precious frames lost in its 80 plus year life. Also notable are some pretty fantastic moments of juxtaposition, such as when a young bourgeois couple has fun smearing each other with makeup, while below them the poor children are smearing each other with filth so they fit in more with the scavengers.

The musical accompaniment was by Donald Sosin, who played an original score which blended well with the use of the actual Chinese “Song of the Fisherman” superimposed into the score. Read More…

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014: Opening Night: “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Four Horsemen.1

And so thus it is with the patterns of the moon and, alongside the Earth’s shift upon its axis in which, verily, as the dawn doth shine… Ah, excuse me; neo-Romantic and Griffith-esque phrasing in intertitles are addictive. Their poetry is epic in scope and therefore  quite fitting with the epic nature of the opening night film, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.

The film centers around, to put it offensively simple, a family of Argentines mixed with French and Germans who end up going back to their respective mother/fatherlands and eventually fight against each other in World War I. In the process, many themes are discussed – fidelity, infidelity, the apocalypse (hence the title), murder, rape, the pointlessness of war, and so on. Read More…

Introducing the San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2014

ParsonsWidow.1Well, folks, it’s that time of year.  In San Francisco, the film festival season is pushing on with gusto following the close of the San Francisco International Film Festival and just before the Documentary Film Festival, Green Film Festival, and Frameline. But the festival that has always shone for me as the most unique is approaching in one week – the Silent Film Festival.

If you have not been to one of the Silent Film Festivals in the past, you are in for a treat. The model of the festival, like that of a few others around the world, is to include live accompaniment with the best prints or digital restorations. Here in San Francisco, we have the privilege and pleasure of having all this in the historic Castro Theatre.

If you are wondering why this experience is unique and what you should see and don’t have the time or fortitude to stay through the whole event, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with the Silent Film Festival’s artistic director, Anita Monga, to talk to her about the festival and what she is most looking forward to.

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The Little Tramp at 100: A Charlie Chaplin Centennial Celebration

Chaplin3Let’s face it, with every new year a new 100th anniversary of something or someone will inevitably arise. While others might have been off celebrating the centennial births of George Reeves (Superman) and Danny Thomas (Make Room for Daddy), or the film debuts of Milton Berle, Oliver Hardy, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino I was planted firmly within the confines of one of Earth’s most beautiful movie palaces, The Castro Theatre, for what was to be a full day of Charlie Chaplin films featuring his iconic character, The Tramp, who non-coincidentally made his film debut exactly 100 years to the very day. Happy birthday, Tramp!

For eight hours I was treated to live musical accompaniment for four of Chaplin’s short films, as well as two of his feature lengths. Jon Mirsalis handled all of the shorts on his piano, while Timothy Brock conducted the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra for the feature lengths. As was to be expected, the music was fantastically flawless. In between these films there was a crowd-pleasing look-a-like contest, a slew of factoids from Chaplin historian, Jeffrey Vance, and a lot of happy conversations ranging from all audience members, whether they were super young, incredibly old, or somewhere in between.

As far as comedians in the silent era go, Charlie Chaplin is not my favorite, not even my second favorite. With that being said the films I have seen of his so far, along with the ones that I watched here were all pretty amazing. My takes on what I saw, after the jump

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2013: Day Four – “The Last Edition”, “The Weavers” and “Safety Last!”

safety-lastOkay, so this post is a few days late and the Jewish Film Festival is now about to begin (day of this post, to be exact), but hey, better late than never, right?

On Day Four (the final day of the fest) not only did I see three films, but I met some interesting characters as well. Gotta love those festival crowds. I briefly met a man, who upon eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with fellow Filmbalayan Tom, turned to us and said “Did you guys know that Cynthia Myers was the Playboy centerfold of December, 1968?” The thing is neither one of us were even talking about Playboy, though I do hear they have great articles. We were talking about someone whose name, though similar to this playmates’, is not Cynthia. I just love the fact that this guy felt so inclined to share with us this Rain Man type factoid of his.

Prior to this encounter I met Thomas, a German man who is currently teaching a class on animation in film and whom with in the spirit of a great festival I were to have a great festive conversation. After all, aside from the chance to see great cinema, aren’t festivals supposed to be about being festive? Now as for the films, here’s how that went down. Read More…

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2013: Day Three – “Gribiche”

photo-Gribiche-1925-6three-stars15Day three of silent film watching and my hopes of seeing more than one film today turned out to be just that – hopes. Truth is I was exhausted from only haven gotten a few hours of sleep the night before and having already worked a morning shift at my part-time coffee bar job prior to this early afternoon screening. Now, as comfortable as the Castor Theatre’s seats may be for a double, or even triple feature, lets face it, when it comes to nap time they simply will not do. Besides, I’ve been told, though I don’t really believe it, that I’m a snorer. If that is true, the Silent Film Festival is not the place where I want to find out. Besides, nobody wants to be that guy, right? So in order to be well rested for a slew of films tomorrow  (I’m hoping for three) I heeded to my body’s call and made a B line for my bed, but before doing so I watched director Jacques Feyder‘s Gribiche. Now I will tell you about it.

Gribiche is without a doubt one of the strangest coming-of-age stories I have ever seen, and while it does have its share of flaws; jokes used more than once, questionable character motives, and stretched out scenes, it is not without its share of noteworthy moments either; flashbacks, flashforwards, set designs, including a sweet merry-go-round, and my favorite part of the film, an hour-by-hour account of what a day in the life of a boy with a “rationale, inflexible schedule” (quoting the title card) looks like. Read More…

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2013: Day Two – “The First Born”

MV5BMjAxMTYyMjc0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODc0MDM5Ng@@._V1._SX640_SY358_three-stars15Day two, and of the four films scheduled, sadly my non-film related agenda only permitted me to see one. I Followed up yesterday’s exciting and nearly pitch perfect melodrama with another film from the same genre, this time it was British director Miles Mander‘s The First Born. And while I still left the theatre having had a good time – after all, how can one not when the incredible Stephen Horne is scoring a picture (this time he added the simultaneous performance of drums and flute to his already flawless piano-based orchestration) – I have to say I was a little disappointed in both the unevenness of the film’s structure, as well as what I thought to be noticeable lulls in the story.

The story is that of Sir Hugo Boycott (Miles Mander) and his wife, Madeleine (Madeleine Carroll), an upperclass couple dealing with the type of baby mama drama usually delegated to daytime talk shows. Neither of the two are particularly likable, though given a choice, my sympathies would lean more towards Madeleine than Hugo, which is fortunate being that Madeleine is the lead protagonist. Read More…

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2013: Day One – “Prix de Beauté”

prix-de-beaute-1930-04-gfive-starsThis year’s Silent Film Festival began with the charismatic beauty of G.W. Pabst‘s often used leading lady, Louise Brooks. The most famous films from this actor-director team are arguably Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl. Mrs. Brooks was not on hand for this screening (being that she’s dead and all), but her screen presence most certainly was – and boy, what a presence. Written by both Pabst, and René Clair, but directed by Augusto Genina, Prix de Beauté is a competent piece of silent filmmaking that when combined with the live score of the single handed multi-instrument orchestrating wonder that is, Stephen Horne, left me with a resonating profound impression of the film.

The story revolves around Lucienne (Brooks), a typist who dreams of being crowned Miss France. On a whim, and against her boyfriend’s wishes, she enters the contest and not only does she win the title of Miss France, she wins the title of Miss Europe as well. I should mention here that the winner of the beauty contest is the one who garners the loudest applause, and not only did Lucienne receive the loudest applause from those on screen, but she received it from those off screen as well.

As the Catstro Theatre broke into applause, matching the action on screen, I, sitting in the center of this silent film palace (Castro Theatre was built in 1922) could not help but feel as though I had just traveled back in time to when silents ruled the theatres. Talk about being immersed in a picture. This moment was indeed the most festive part of the festival, more so than any after party, or film related event that I’ve been to all year as well. Read More…

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