Friday, July 15, 2011

Phil attends the opening night of the 16th Annual SF Silent Film Festival-July 14, 2011

Okay, I have been waiting patiently for this event all year! Now, that time has come! It's the 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, held at the majestic Castro Theater! Tonight was absolutely amazing! This year, the festival added another film for the opening night. That's right; two films tonight and both were preceded by a short film. Plus an earth shattering announcement. So let's get this show on the road!

Nancy Nash & Earle Foxe in UPSTREAM (1927)
Tonight's show began with an introduction by Academy Film Archivist Joe Linder and Schawn Belston, who along with his employee 20th Century Fox, helped with the preservation of the film we were about to see. They discussed about how the film was discovered at the New Zealand Film Archive and was part of what archivist call "orphan films," which are films that no longer have owners or the copyrights expired. Thanks to five major American archives, this film and 75 other "lost" films will now be preserved. "Orphan films" will be the theme for this year's festival, and many of these films will be shown before the main features throughout the festival.

The first screening began with the orphan film entitled WHY HUSBANDS FLIRT. A newlywed husband gets the itch to once again play the field and soon meets a young woman behind his wife's back. What he doesn't is that the young woman he picked up is an old school chum of his wife's, and the two of them teach the husband he will never forget. A really funny short film that got the audience in good spirits.

The main feature for the program was a hilarious comedy entitled UPSTREAM, which was directed by iconic director John Ford, best known for making some of the greatest westerns films ever made. The films stars Nancy Nash, Earle Foxe, and Grant Withers, the film takes place in a theatrical boarding house, where a love triangle takes place among our three leads. The film was scored by the amazing Donald Sosin Ensemble. The film was originally released by 20th Century Fox on January 20, 1927.

After the screening, the festival had a very special and important announcement to share with us. In 2012, the festival, along with American Zoetrope, The Film Preserve, Photoplay Productions, and the BFI will be screening, at the  Paramount Theatre in Oakland, the US premiere of the complete restoration of NAPOLEON!! This film was a life-time obsession of author, historian, and Academy Award winner Kevin Brownlow, who gave us some more information about his love of this this beloved silent classic. NAPOLEON will be shown on March 24, 25, 31, and April 1. Tickets are available here.

There was a brief intermission, as to those who choose to attend the Opening Night Party at the McRoskey Mattress Company Building could leave, or stay and watch the second film that was being shown. I chose the film, due to the fact that I have never seen the film on the big Castro screen before.

George O'Brien & Margaret Livingston in SUNRISE (1927)
The second screening was of the film SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS, directed by the world renown F.W. Murnau and starring George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston. This was such a beautiful film, and way ahead of its time. Murnau's directing was both superb and groundbreaking. Using interesting tracking shots, super-imposed images, interesting interior set designs, and beautiful cinematography, set against a story of love, betrayal, and redemption, this is one of my favorite films by this highly regarded auteur. The film was preceded by an outtake from the orphan film F.W. MURNAE AND GEORGE O'BRIEN LEAVING PARIS FOR BERLIN. To introduce the films was artist Jill Tracy and musician Giovanni Spinelli provided an electric guitar score for the film.

Yes, I said an electric guitar score. And this is where the controversy begins.

Now, I have seen this film before, with the original score provided by my good friend Dennis James. I am a very open-minded person, and my opinion is this: no matter who is scoring the film, if it compliments the film, then it's fine with me. However, in this case, Spinelli's electric score was a distraction, and I spoke with numerous people who felt the same way, if not more vocal. But I soon drowned out his music and I found myself immerse in the film. I was just captivated by Murnae's style of directing, so in a round about way, thanks to Spinelli, I rediscovered this classic film and saw it with a whole new perspective.

Now there were people who did enjoy Spinelli's score, and that's good to hear. Others did not, and that's OK too. A majority of people that I spoke to said they came to the show because of this electric guitar score, and half of those people had never seen the film before. Sometime we need to shake things up in life. We can't just continue with being comfortable and stay stagnant. Spinelli's radical new score brought people to come see SUNRISE, and that's a very good thing. People who have never seen a silent film before walked away having been awaken to this long, lost art form. And for this reason, I give Spinelli full credit of making a lot of new people into silent films fans!

What an amazing night tonight!! And folks, this is only just the beginning! The festival will be going until Sunday night. To purchase tickets for any of the shows, visit the festival's website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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