Monday, February 18, 2013

Silent Winter

Silent Winter 2013 photo IMG_20130216_092824_zpsf8a15827.jpgSan Francisco Silent Film Festival audiences are great. They are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, & behave as if the movies are interactive. People were in line by 9:30 Saturday morning, waiting for the Castro Theatre doors to open for this one day event. The SFSFF does a great job educating as well. Printed programs contain informative essays on all the films, & title cards display relevant film trivia during the breaks. I happily sat through 4 of the day's shows.


Snow White
USA, 1916 • Director J. Searle Dawley

This live-action version of Snow White, running about an hour, has more historical than entertainment value. The 15-year-old Walt Disney saw it, & it may be the only surviving film of Marguerite Clark, a major star of the period. She is very short & has a girlish appeal. The plot greatly elaborates the Grimm fairy tale, making it oddly unfamiliar. In one sequence, the huntsman & his 3 children make a daring escape from a tower prison. The use of real animals is charming. A fleeting animated scene depicts the witch on her broom. The print has damage and abrupt gaps.

The screening was introduced by Executive Director Stacey Wisnia & author J. B. Kaufman, who has the enviable job of film historian for the Walt Disney Family Foundation. Donald Sosin provided a lively piano accompaniment. There were some young children in attendance. It was cute to hear a father whispering the intertitles to his small daughter.

Think Slow, Act Fast: Buster Keaton Shorts
One Week (1920)
The Scarecrow (1920)
The Playhouse (1921)

The best silent era comedies still work just as they were intended, & there was laughter throughout this program of Keaton shorts. The audience applauded many of the gags, such as the satirically efficient kitchen at the beginning of The Scarecrow. I was astonished when the film's dog co-star exhibited an ability to climb a ladder. Someone wolf-whistled when Keaton appeared in drag in The Playhouse. The Playhouse also had the best intertitle of the day when Keaton was ordered to "Dress the monkey!"

The program was introduced by Artistic Director Anita Monga & the 83-year-old Frank Buxton, who once worked with Buster Keaton onstage. Mr. Sosin played a jaunty & often jazzy piano accompaniment.

The Thief of Bagdad
USA, 1924 • Director Raoul Walsh

I'd never seen this famous Douglas Fairbanks movie before, & it is indeed epic. The gigantic sets make the actors look like toys. Fairbanks doesn't do his usual cocksure buckaroo, & he does not play humility convincingly, but the movie is fun. It is also embarassingly racist, though the audience still got into the spirit by hissing the villianous Mongol prince & applauding the famous magic carpet ride. There was also applause for Anna May Wong as a treacherous slave girl.

Board member Tracey Goessel & film historian Jeffrey Vance introduced the program. Mr. Vance observed that in the movie Fairbanks "not so much acts as dances the part." Mr. Vance also revealed that the pudgy Persian prince was played by actress Mathilde Comont, wearing a mustache. We saw a 2K digital restoration, which was the only digitally projected film in the festival.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, consisting of piano, violin, clarinet, trumpet & percussion, accompanied with salon-style classical music. They were impressively consistent, playing continuously for 90 minutes & then, after a short break, for another hour. I was surprised that it was quite a long time before Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade made its way into their score. Their inclusion of a gong was particularly effective. They received cheers & a standing ovation at the end.

My Best Girl
USA, 1927 • Director Sam Taylor

This romantic comedy from the end of the silent era stars Mary Pickford in her last silent role. I was totally taken in by the plucky sweetness of a scene in which Pickford flirts with co-star Buddy Rogers from the back of an open truck weaving through real traffic. I laughed really hard at a gag in which Pickford treats a consommé like a cup of tea. Though the scenario is farcical, I always felt like something real was at stake, & I found the whole thing very satisfying.

The movie was introduced by Festival President Robert Byrne & film historian Jeffrey Vance, who thinks you can see Pickford & Rogers, who married about 10 years later, actually falling in love during the film. Mr. Vance also told us to where to look for a cameo by Carole Lombard. Mr. Sosin provided an appropriately jazz-infused accompaniment that matched the scenes closely. During the emotional climax of the movie, Pickford puts on a record of Red Hot Mama. The piano suddenly cut out & we heard the sound of the record coming from the screen.

I didn't quite make it to the end of Silent Winter. When I left, the line for Murnau's Faust went around the corner. The film was accompanied on the Mighty Wurlitzer, so I'm sure it was a grand ending to the day.

§ Silent Winter
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Castro Theatre

Snow White
USA, 1916 • Director J. Searle Dawley
Musical Accompaniment Donald Sosin on grand piano
10:00 am

Think Slow, Act Fast: Buster Keaton Shorts
USA • Directors Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
One Week (1920)
The Scarecrow (1920)
The Playhouse (1921)
Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano
noon

The Thief of Bagdad
USA, 1924 • Director Raoul Walsh
Musical Accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
2:30 pm

My Best Girl
USA, 1927 • Director Sam Taylor
Musical Accompaniment by Donald Sosin on grand piano
7:00 pm

Faust
Germany, 1926 • Director F.W. Murnau
Musical Accompaniment by Christian Elliott on the Mighty Wurlitzer
9:00 pm

2 comments:

Michael Strickland said...

Wow, what a Silent Film Iron Man! Very impressed.

I was at the Hamburg Ballet at the Opera House Saturday afternoon, coincidentally listening to three-quarters of "Scheherezade" during the "Nijinsky" ballet first act AND the entire Shostakovich 11th Symphony for the second act. Then it was on to Aidamanar. Trying to write up the whole thing is tricky because it's such a blur.

Axel Feldheim said...

The SF Silent Film Festival does some of my favorite events in the City, so I was really happy to have the opportunity to spend just about the whole day there.

Wow, that's a lot for one Saturday. At least I got to stay in place the whole time. I look forward to reading your impressions of Ainadamar.