Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SF Silent Film Festival - Day 3 - Continued

The afternoon of the 3rd day of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I stuck around for Tod Browning's 1920 Outside the Law, a film noir with a touch of domestic comedy. The demotic Eddie Muller, a last-minute replacement for Leonard Maltin, introduced the program. He expressed his admiration for the film's female lead, Priscilla Dean. Called "The Queen of Crookdom", she was supposedly as tough in real life as on-screen. The story is set in San Francisco's Chinatown, & Mr. Muller speculated that Dashiell Hammett must have seen it.

The suspenseful plot involves double-crossing mobsters & changes of heart, & I was easily caught up in the story. Ms. Dean's gutsy character comes across vividly, as does a scene-stealing child who remains irresistibly cute whether bawling his eyes out or toting an ax. Even though the Chinese are the good guys, I did not appreciate seeing white actors in yellowface, especially Lon Chaney grotesquely made up as a slit-eyed Chinaman. It was fun to spot Old St. Mary's in an exterior shot. It's a pity that the film image is badly deteriorated in the climactic fight sequence.

Pianist Stephen Horne & percussionist Frank Bockius accompanied with music that evoked the period & underscored the action. I enjoyed the sultry jazz theme they played for Ms. Dean's character. The duo resorted to oriental motifs & a gong for the Chinatown scenes. Somehow Mr. Horne also played the zither, flute or accordion at the same time as the piano. The audience laughed at an intertitle referring to San Francisco's "Knob Hill."

I came back at night for A Page of Madness, a 1926 avant-garde film from Japan that I'd been wanting to see for years. It is famously set in a madhouse & infamously lacks intertitles & a definitive scenario. The film has also not survived complete. Serge Bromberg got us in the mood for bafflement by beginning his introduction to the film in French. He admitted that he's seen it many times but never understands anything.

The director Teinosuke Kinugasa makes dazzling use of multiple exposure, rapid-fire montage & tracking shots, & every shot forms a striking composition. The actors are intense without being overly hysterical. I was impressed by the staging of the mob scenes. The movie triggered a lot of primal emotions, & I was especially freaked out by a scene in which the inmates put on masks.

The show was accompanied by the three-man Alloy Orchestra, playing electronic instruments and a large array of percussion. They made creepy use of harp, clarinet & theremin. The score was often loud & punishing & matched the movie's atmosphere of frenzy & menace.

During the breaks it was fun to catch up with Patrick, who I believe saw all 6 programs that day, & to see The Civic Center, who was a man on the go.

§ Outside the Law
Directed by Tod Browning | 1920 | USA | 76 min
Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius
San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2017
Saturday, June 3, 5:00pm
Castro Theatre

§ A Page of Madness (Kurutta Ichipeiji)
Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa | 1926 | Japan | 70 min
Live musical accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra
San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2017
Saturday, June 3, 9:30pm
Castro Theatre

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