Saturday, July 16, 2011

Phil attends the 16th Annual SF Silent Film Festival: Day 2-July 14, 2011

Hello again everybody and welcome to day two of my trip to the 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the historic Castro Theater! So much do and so many more silent films to see today, so let's get this show on the road!

First up was the latest installment in the highly recommended series called AMAZING TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE ARCHIVIST AS DETECTIVE . Hosted by UCLA Film and Television archivist Jan-Christopher Horak, George Eastman House's Anthony L'Abbate and Melissa Levesque from the Academy Film Archive, this free show presents these three individuals' tales about film preservation, and the pain-staking steps it takes to identify, preserve, and protect these cinematic treasures. Accompanying music for these short films and film fragments was the great Stephan Horne, whose name you'll see pop up numerous times during the festival.

As I stated in my last film blog, the festival's main theme for this year is "orphan films," so before each program there are screenings of these little darlings for us to enjoy. Before first program, two orphan films were shown: 1922's MRS. HARDING, "CAMERAMAN?" and 1928's COOLIDGE TRAPSHOOTING. It's safe to say the films are self-explanatory.

The first film screening today was Mark Twain's beloved classic character HUCKLEBERRY FINN. This was the very first film adaptation of Twain's famous story and it was presumed lost until George Eastman House discovered it and made an amazing restoration. The film starred Lewis Sargent, George Reed, and Gordon Griffith. The director for the film was William Desmond Taylor, who unfortunately is more well known because of his mysterious death than his films. Taylor was only 50 years old when he died and his death still remains unsolved . The film was originally released in 1927. Providing the musical score was Donald Sosin on the grand piano.

Another orphan film was shown before the second program. ST. LOUIS TO CHICAGO was released in 1926, and it also features a then unknown Charles Lindbergh. Very cool film to see.

The next film to be shown was I WAS BORN, BUT... directed by the great Yasujiro Ozu. I was fortunate to have seen this film about three years ago during the Cinequest Film Festival back in my hometown of San Jose, but I was really looking forward to seeing the film again. Ozu (who's best known for his post WWII films such as LATE SPRING (1949), EARLY SUMMER (1951), and TOKYO STORY (1953)) directed this funny, light-hearted children's comedy that really does need to be rediscovered. Who knew Ozu could make a film such as this. It was a very sweet and funny film. Not what you'd expect from Ozu, so make sure you check this one out! On the grand piano once again was Stephan Horne.

The third film I saw was my favorite of the festival thus far! THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE was an extraordinary experience. This documentary film chronicled the British Antarctic Expedition led by Captain Scott, but unfortunately, the expedition ended in tragedy. The film footage was originally shot in 1910, but the director Herbert Ponting didn't edit and release this UK film until 1924. The film's footage is over a hundred years old, and it looked spectacular! What I found touching is that these were real people trying to make history. We the audience are emotionally invested with Captain Scott and his brave crew, and the end result of their journey makes it all the more heartbreaking. A true documentary gem that I am very glad I got to see! The film's accompaniment was provided by the Matti Bye Ensemble, who did a marvelous job elevating this film to dizzying heights! Their performance was completely captivating, and their score perfectly complicated the film. This was the highlight of the festival for today!!

Before the last program of the night, the orphan film BEETHOVEN'S "MOONLIGHT SONATA," which was released in 1909 by Edison Films. This was a fun, little short that has Beethoven having sever writer's block, and walks around town, upon hearing the beautiful piano notes. He investigates and discovers a lovely, blind housewife is making the beautiful melodies. The filma has all the trademarks of an Edison production: cheesy acting, bad melodrama, and some of the worst set designs ever. When Beethoven is walking around town, he is taller than the buildings! This has cam written all over it, and I loved it!

The last film for today was a very strange and hilarious (even though it wasn't supposed to be funny) Italian import entitled IL FUOCO. Released in Italy in 1915, the film stars Pina Menichelli (who almost throughout the film wears a hat and coat that makes her look like an owl) as an evil and wealthy poetess who seduces a poor painter (Febo Mario) who just fall in love with this femme fatale. This film was a real trip, and I say that because of its ending, which I don't want to give away. Needless to say, Micnichelli's diva was a real witch, and she played it off perfectly! The film was directed by Giovanni Pastrone and again Stephen Horne provided the music accompaniment along with Jill Tracy providing the haunting vocal moans.

Another fun-filled day was had by all, especially for this silent film buff! There are still two more days of the SF Silent Film Festival, so if you would like to know more about the festival and its film schedule, visit their website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

No comments:

Post a Comment