Monday, September 29, 2014

Silent Autumn

Last weekend I had a great time at the SF Silent Film Festival's 1-day Silent Autumn event at the Castro Theatre, where I saw 3 of the 5 programs. Author Donna Hill gave a breathless introduction to The Son of the Sheik, Rudolph Valentino's last movie, & told us that Valentino spent the enormous sum of $15,000 on his own costumes. This was my 1st time seeing the film, & I found it entertaining & perhaps even a bit self-parodying. Special effects shots in which Valentino appears on screen simultaneously as both father & son are seamless. A chase scene over desert sands on horseback has an authenticity that is still spectacular.

The Alloy Orchestra, a trio of musicians playing percussion, clarinet, accordion and electronic keyboard, premiered their original score, which has an appropriately oriental atmosphere & is percussion-heavy & dark. It matched the action closely, though I sometimes felt it missed the film's occasional humor. The performance was loud & lively & received an enthusiastic ovation. The keyed-up audience applauded Valentino's 1st appearance on the screen & when he straightened out the iron bar bent by The Sheik.

The next show was a diverse program of 14 shorts compiled by the British Film Institute & representing what movie-goers saw in cinemas on the cusp of World War I. Newsreel footage included glimpses of Emmeline Pankhurst, the Austro-Hungarian royal family & Ernest Shackleton, who shows off the dogs he is taking on his Antarctic expedition, though the product placement for Spratt's Dog Cakes is rather unfortunate. A travelogue of Egyptian street scenes & monuments was evocative.

It was fun seeing a bubbly Florence Turner in Daisy Doodad's Dial, a remarkably silly comedy involving a face-pulling competition & containing an impressive multiple exposure shot. I also enjoyed discovering the brazenly idiotic Lieutenant Pimple and the Stolen Submarine, a low-budget comedy whose makers were unashamed of their cardboard sets & couldn't be bothered to crop spectators out of the frame when shooting along the Thames Embankment

Donald Sosin accompanied on piano & did a good job matching each film's mood. His jaunty playing felt appropriate to the period. Mr. Sosin also did a sort of reverse lip-synching when he sang along to a song & dance film that once had a synchronized sound disc.

After a 2 hour dinner break I returned for Buster Keaton's The General. The theater was packed, & it was a terrific experience seeing the movie with such a fired up audience. Board President Robert Byrne pointed out Keaton's granddaughter, Melissa Talmadge Cox, & her son in the audience. John Bengtson, film detective extraordinaire, introduced the screening & told us anecdotes about the friendly relationship that developed between the film crew & the residents of Cottage Grove, Oregon, where The General was filmed.

The Alloy Orchestra was back to play their original score for the film, which was percussion-heavy & went into a weighty, chugging mode whenever a train was in motion. The music was loud, often drowning out the audience's laughter, but it amped up the film's dynamism. The energetic performers received a cheering ovation at the end.

§ Silent Autumn
San Francisco Silent Film Festival

1:00 PM
The Son of the Sheik
(USA, 1926, 81 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra.

3:30 PM
A Night at the Cinema in 1914
(USA/UK, 1914, 85 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin

7:00 PM
The General
(USA, 1926, 75 minutes)
Musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra.

Saturday September 20 2014
Castro Theatre


Michael Strickland said...

Way to do a triple feature, Iron Man.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks! It wasn't my original plan, but there was a generous 2-hour dinner break between shows & my movie companion had never seen The General before. I'm glad we came back for it!