Saturday, June 03, 2017

SF Silent Film Festival: Tales from the Archives

Jack's Joke. 1913.
Edison Kinetophone.
I started my 2nd day at the SF Silent Film Festival with Amazing Tales from the Archives, a free program of highly informative presentations by film preservationists. A chipper George Willeman, from the Library of Congress, talked us through one of his pet projects: resurrecting Edison Kinetophone films. The technology involved synchronizing phonograph cylinders with projectors via a mechanical cable & pulley system. Mr. Willeman summed it up as "too damned complicated," & it failed in the market. He showed us his discovery of the 1st microphone accidentally appearing in a shot, & we saw absurd single-take films of singing blacksmiths & shouty actors.

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, of EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, gave a slide lecture about the life of Jean Desmet, an early 20th century serial entrepreneur & film exhibitor, whose archive of films, movie posters, photographs & documents form the EYE's Desmet Collection. Ms. Rongen-Kaynakçi is especially interested in his business correspondence, which provides details like the cost of a Bechstein piano for his cinema. She is also interested in his investment in a patented "cloud projector," which would have projected giant ads onto clouds, in the manner of the Bat-Signal.

Lastly, Heather Linville, of the Academy Film Archive, told us the astonishing story of Idris Welsh, who, as a 6-foot tall teenager, joined up with a certain Captain Wanderwell in 1922, adopted the moniker Aloha Wanderwell, & led a fleet of Model T's on a round-the-world tour. Along the way, she shot, edited & appeared in a series of travel films & eventually ending up in Hollywood. The Captain himself was charged with the enslavement of a minor, which he resolved by marrying Aloha. She went on to continue shooting travelogues & presenting her films to audiences in person. I could not understand why I had never heard of her & why no one has yet made her biopic. She even had a pet monkey called Chango.

Ms. Linville ran many excerpts of the travel films as she spoke. One alarming clip showed a motorcade of Model T's driving straight up the stairs of the Great Wall of China. Pianist Donald Sosin provided gentle, unobtrusive accompaniment to the films. Even though this was weekday morning, there was an impressive audience turnout.

§ Amazing Tales from the Archives
George Willeman, Library of Congress
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, EYE Filmmuseum
Heather Linville, Academy Film Archive
Music by Donald Sosin, piano

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2017
Friday June 2 2017, 10a
Castro Theatre

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