The Unknown, starring Lon Chaney & Joan Crawford, with live musical accompaniment by Stephin Merritt & Daniel Handler. This was one of the live events presented at the San Francisco International Film Festival. It was good to see The Unknown, which I'd never seen before. The creepy love story features Chaney as a supposedly armless circus performer & Crawford as the love interest. The festival projected a clean 35mm print.
Stephin Merritt, sitting at the corner of the stage, accompanied the movie with a continuous ukulele solo, which seemed an odd choice. The ukulele does not have much dynamic range, & his tuneless vamping sounded more or less the same for every scene. I thought it a weak response to the movie, which is lurid & gratifyingly sadistic. Local author Daniel Handler sat on the opposite side of the stage watching the movie, though he did contribute some notes on the accordion to punctuate the movie's climactic final scene. Mr. Merritt came on and off stage without acknowledging the audience, which I found rude.
Jean Genet meets the Three Stooges." Mr. Merritt played the bongos to accompany it, & I liked the distinctively gruff voice he used to supply the film's dialogue. He instructed us, "When you see a slap, clap!" The festival audience was impressively good at doing so.
There was a good turnout at the Castro Theatre, & the audience was in a good mood for both films. I wish I'd arrived earlier to hear more of David Hegarty on the Castro's organ before the show.
§ The Unknown
Director: Tod Browning
USA, 1927, 63 mins.
Accompanied by Stephin Merritt & Daniel Handler
§ Sissy-Boy Slap-Party
Director: Guy Maddin
Canada, 2004, 6 mins.
§ The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival
Stephin Merritt With The Unknown
Tuesday, May 6, 8:00pm