Sunday, June 08, 2014

SF Silent Film Festival: Day 2

Besides seeing the morning's informational presentation, I had a full 2nd day at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. Midday I saw Song of the Fisherman, a 1936 feature made by the Shanghai-based Lianhua Film Company. The sketchy storyline follows the contrasting lives of a poor girl & a rich boy, first as children in remote fishing village, then as young adults in Shanghai. The harsh realities of poverty loom large, & the film is sentimental without being a love story. Landscapes are beautifully photographed, but there were big gaps, perhaps due to continuity issues with the restoration.

Film historian Richard J. Meyer introduced the screening & explained how the Chinese market for silent films lasted well into the 1930s. Donald Sosin provided a simple & melodic accompaniment on the piano. Song of the Fisherman was made as a silent & then re-made with a soundtrack, so we heard a recording of lead actress Wang Ranmei singing the title song at appropropriate points in the film.

 In the afternoon I saw The Parson's Widow, a droll comedy by Carl Dreyer about a poor seminarian with a long-suffering fiancée. The young man gets a job as a pastor in a small rural village, but only on the condition that he marry the previous pastor's elderly window. The storytelling is beautifully controlled & drew me in more & more as the film progressed. The cast give archetypal performances, especially Hildur Carlberg, a majestic 76-year-old stage actress, in the title role.

Matti Bye accompanied on the piano with a quiet score whose uncanny mood was disconnected from the film's humor. His playing was precious & brittle & often reminded me of a music box. He did a good job remaining unfazed when the film broke 3 times during the show. Barbro S. Osher, the Consul General of Sweden, introduced the film & demonstrated the correct pronunciation of Matti Bye's name.

At the late night show I saw Cosmic Voyage, a giddy Soviet science fiction film made for children. An older scientist, his beautiful female assistant & a plucky teenager make a spontaneous rescue mission to the moon in a giant rocket ship. The fanciful special effects include animated shots of the characters bounding weightlessly across the moon. Stalin makes a cameo appearance.

The movie was accompanied by Günter Buchwald on piano & Frank Bockius on percussion. Their vigorous improvisations matched the movie's manic action, & they incorporated the opening of Also sprach Zarathustra & The Internationale. Frank Buxton spiritedly read translations of the Russian intertitles, which included the best intertitle of the festival: "You collect the atmosphere. I'll collect the cat." The show was introduced by experimental filmmaker Craig Baldwin, who selected this film & whose enthusiasm was rather frantic itself.

§ San Francisco Silent Film Festival 
Friday, May 30
Castro Theatre 

1:00 pm
The Song of the Fishermen (Yu Guang Qu)
Cai Chusheng, China, 1934 • 60 minutes
Accompanied by Donald Sosin on piano
Introduced by Richard J. Meyer

5:00 pm
The Parson’s Widow (Prästänkan)
Carl Th. Dreyer, Sweden, 1920 • 88 minutes
Accompanied by Matti Bye on piano
Introduced by Barbro S. Osher.

10:00 pm
Cosmic Voyage (Kosmicheskiy Reys)
Vasili Zhuravlyov, USSR, 1936 • 70 minutes
Accompanied by Günter Buchwald on piano & Frank Bockius on percussion 

Preceded by animated short advertising Niemeyer Pijptabac
Directed by George Debels, 1923, The Netherlands
No musical accompaniment

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