Sunday, July 15, 2012

Phil attends the 17th Annual SF Silent Film Festival: Day Three-July 14, 2012

Hello again and welcome back to Day Three of my trip to the 17th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival here at the Castro Theater! So far this has been an astounding festival, full of new discovers and some classic silent films that I cannot wait to see. Today was going to a be very long day for me, but thankfully I had my good friend Jason (Jason Watches Movies) to keep me company! So let's talk about today's programs, shall we?

This morning's program was the festival's annual children's show. This year we were all treated to watching FELIX THE CAT cartoons! The program was introduced by famed film critic Leonard Maltin, who asked us, "When are you ever gonna see this many 35mm Felix the Cat cartoon prints on the big screen?" Never!! Seven classic Felix cartoons were shown: FELIX LOSES OUT (1924), FELIX THE CAT TRIPS THRU TOYLAND (1925), FELIX THE CAT IN BLUNDERLAND (1926), FELIX THE CAT WEATHERS THE WEATHER (1926), JUNGLE BUNGLES (1928), ESKIMOTIVE (1928), and FELIX THE CAT FLIRTS WITH FATE (1926). At the end of the program, both children and adults filled the theatre with laughter and animal noises! The film prints came from the UCLA Film Archive, The George Eastman House, and the Library of Congress. Providing the music was the great Donald Sosin and the incredible Toychestra (making their SF Silent Film Festival debut), who used a variety of children's toys to create their music as well as a cool sample board full of neato sounds! What a great way to kick off my Saturday morning!

The first film screened today was THE SPANISH DANCER, directed by Herbert Brenon and features Pola Negri as Spanish gypsy singer. Set in Spain in the 1700s, Maritana (Negri) falls in love with a recently broke nobleman Don Cesar de Brazen ( the funny Antonio Moreno). Both end up being pawns in a game that involves the Spanish King Philip IV (Wallace Beery) and his his French wife Queen Isabel of Bourbon (Kathlyn Williams). The grand architect in this infectious scheme. The film was introduced by SF Silent Dilm President Robert Byrne, who was involved with its restoration at the EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands. The film's restoration was culled from four different film sources. The film was a fantastic historical romantic comedy! And a very, very funny one at that! This was the film's North American premiere and the audience was very enthusiastic to see this long lost silent classic! The film was one of my highlights of the festival! The film was originally distributed by Paramount Pictures on October 27, 1923. The musical accompaniment was provided once again by Donald Sosin on the grand piano. Accompanying him were guitarists Jim Washburn and Greg Smith.

Continuing Paramount's centennial celebration, the next film screened was THE CANADIAN. Directed by William Beaudine, the film's about a poor London woman named Nora (Mona Palma) who travels to the wheat fields of Canada to live on her brother's farm after the death of her aunt. Because of her prim and proper manners, she clashes with her brother's wife (Dale Fuller). Desperate to remove herself from her unpleasant living situation, she convinces rancher Frank Taylor (Thomas Meighan) in marrying her and moving in his rustic and small home. The film is a comedy, but unlike THE SPANISH DANCER and MANTRAP, which are laugh-out-loud comedies, the humor is much more subtle and more controlled. The simplicity of Fuller tilting her head in disapproval and rolling her eyes caused the audience to laugh loudly. While the middle dragged on a bit too long and had a couple of plot holes, the film was still entertains and another great silent film discovery for yours truly. The film was again released by Paramount on November 27, 1926. The fantastic Stephen Horne was on the grand piano, as well on flute and accordion.

The forth program of the day was the extraordinary silent documentary SOUTH. Directed by Frank Hurley, the film chronicled explorer Ernest Shackleton's 1913-1917 expedition to cross Antarctica from coast to coast. This astonishing and powerful documentary demonstrated the will and courage of these brave men as they faced Antarctica's fierce terrain and unforgiving cold! The film was restored by the BFI, correcting its original film tints and tones. Now the festival screened a digital copy of the film, which wasn't really that great of a copy. However, I would prefer this than not ever seeing it ever! British actor Paul McGann narrated the film, reading Shackleton's original letters while Stephen Horne provided the musical score.

The fifth film of the night was the centerpiece presentation of the festival. Hailed as one of the greatest silent films ever made, PANDORA'S BOX still has the ability to capture the audience's attention, 83 years after the film's original release! Directed by G.W. Pabst and starring the mesmerizing Louise Brooks, the film is the stuff of legends! Now I usually talk about the film's synopsis, but in this case, it would be unnecessary. Why do you ask? Because this is a film that YOU NEED TO SEE! And you should see it now! This is one of the finest films ever made people! Ask any film fanatic, silent film buff, or filmmaker (indie or Hollywood), and they will tell you the exact same thing! Brooks just radiates sexuality; it literally pours off of the screen! Not to many women can claim this, but Brooks truly is in a class all by herself!

The film was introduced by David Ferguson, Angela Holm, and Vincent Pirozzi, who all were involved with the film's restoration. Providing with the financial backing for this project was none other than HUGH HEFNER, the founder of Playboy Enterprises! In case you didn't know, Hefner is a huge cinephile as well as a major Louise Brooks fan! A huge "Thank You!" to Mr. Hefner for funding this film's restoration!! The 35mm film print screened looked absolutely exquisite! The festival screened the film back in 2006, but this digital restoration version is the most complete version of it. The film was originally released in Germany by Süd-Film in February 1929. when it was released here in the states, it was severely edited. The Criterion Collection released the film on DVD back in November of 2006. Let's hope that they will release this version of the film soon! Another aspect that made this screening so memorable was the all new original score performed by the amazing Matti Bye Ensemble!

The sixth and final film of the day was the Russian avant-garde piece OVERCOAT (SHINEL). Directed by Andrei Kostrichkin and Leonid Trauberg, the film's about.....well...actually, I don't know what the hell the movie was about! So here's what I thought the film was about: A clerk wears a wore down overcoat. Clerk gets screwed over by his peers. Clerk grows old and works in same position. Clerk buys new overcoat. Clerk is happy. Clerk gets mugged and his overcoat is stolen. Clerk asks for help but doesn't receive any from his peers. Clerk dies in his bed missing his overcoat. The End. Much like Germany, Russian films do not have happy endings! The film was released in the old Soviet Union in 1926. Providing the music was the amazing avant-garde band Alloy Orchestra (who only performed to a half-filled theatre. And for some reason this was their only performance this year! Hopefully this situation is remedied at next year's festival).

And that's it for Saturday's edition of the festival! Just one more day left! If you still want to check it out, there are tickets still available to purchase. Please visit the SF Silent Film Festival's website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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