Wednesday, June 07, 2017

SF Silent Film Festival - Day 3

I started my 3rd day at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival at a program of shorts, dedicated to the memory of film preservationist David Shepard, who died this year. Festival board member Russell Merritt offered us personal remembrances of Mr. Shepard, & we saw a sweet home movie from 1942, in color, showing Mr. Shepard as a curious toddler.

Serge Bromberg, a friend & business associate of Mr. Shepard, selected the program of 10 shorts & introduced each with anecdotes & bits of movie history. The films were mostly from the 1st decade of the 20th century, & an ebullient Mr. Bromberg evoked the novelty & playfulness of early cinema. There was a lot of laughter. I especially enjoyed seeing Pathé's 1907 First Prize for Cello Playing, which parodies concert audiences in a neat 2 minutes, & Émile Cohl's discombobulating 1908 Fantasmagorie, considered to be the 1st animated cartoon. A few of the films had stenciled or hand-painted color & were lovely to watch.

The Dancing Pig records a disconcerting vaudeville act featuring a performer in an enormous pig costume & was a hit with tweeting festival-goers. Mr. Bromberg provided a live narration to Méliès's 1906 The Witch, as would have been done back in the day, though the original narrators were presumably a lot less cheeky than Mr. Bromberg. Pianist Donald Sosin & percussionist Frank Bockius played bounding, jazzy accompaniments to the films.

After lunch, I attended the showing of Filibus, an unashamedly silly Italian crime caper from 1915. At the screening, board president Robert Byrne presented the Festival Award to  archivists Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi & Frank Roumen of the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. Mr. Roumen complimented the festival's keen audiences, & Ms. Rongen-Kaynakçi introduced the film. The title character of Filibus travels around in a sort of stealth airship, & Ms. Rongen-Kaynakçi posited a connection between early cinema & aviation. As a prelude, she presented a brief documentary film about the launching of a balloon. She admitted that she knew almost nothing about it, other than that it likely records a Germany military operation. She has yet to discover the meaning of the initials DAZD, which can be barely glimpsed on the balloon.

The festival audience got into the spirit of the cat-and-mouse high jinks of Filibus & clearly approved when the cross-dressing villainess's male persona seems to court another female character. They also applauded a rescue scene in which she is hoisted out of a window & into the sky. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, consisting of piano, violin, cello, trumpet & clarinet, provided a pleasant accompaniment to the film, vamping on a series of light, often waltzing, themes.

§ Magic and Mirth
Those Awful Hats | USA | 1909 | D.W. Griffith
Cartoon Factory | USA | 1924 | Fleischer Studios
The Masquerader | USA | 1914 | Charlie Chaplin
First Prize For Cello Playing | France | 1907 | Pathé Frères
Fantasmagorie | France | 1908 | Émile Cohl
Tit For Tat | France | 1906 | Gaston Velle
When The Devil Drives | UK | 1907 | Walter Booth
Down In The Deep | France | 1906 | Ferdinand Zecca
The Dancing Pig | France | 1907 | Pathé Frères
The Witch | France | 1906 | Georges Méliès

Presented by Serge Bromberg
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius
San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2017
Saturday, June 3, 10:00am
Castro Theatre

§ Filibus
Directed by Mario Roncoroni | Italy | 1915 | 71 m.
Live musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2017
Saturday, June 3, 2:30pm
Castro Theatre

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