Friday, July 20, 2012

Phil attends the 17th Annual SF Silent Film Festival: Day Four-July 15, 2012

Hello again my faithful readers and welcome to the fourth and final day of my trip to the 17th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the majestic Castro Theatre! I've had so much fun these past three days. It's hard to believe that it's almost over! But before I say goodbye to the City by the Bay and to all my friends (both old and new), let's check out all the classic silent movies that I saw today! So buckle up ladies and gentlemen, and away we go!

The first film shown this morning was THE MARK OF ZORRO, starring the great Douglas Fairbanks. The film is based on the 1919 story "The Curse of Capistrano" by Johnston McCulley. Now up till this time, Fairbanks was known for is wacky and heart warming romantic comedies. But with his role as the people's masked champion Zorro (and his wimpy alter-ego Don Diego Vega), he redefined himself as a swashbuckling superstar! The film showcased the man's amazing athletic prowess; climbing up exterior walls of a church, jumping off of roofs, flinging himself through doors and windows, and leaping over a pigs stie! The reason I mention the pigs stie is that this particular scene was lifted for the film THE ARTIST! In fact, the George Valentin character was based on Fairbanks himself! The film was introduced Jeffrey Vance, who informed us that some of the Zorro trademarks (such as the "Z" he makes with his sword) were created for the film and were not in the books (of course with the film's success, author McCulley included them in the rest of the series). The film was produced by Fairbanks' own production company, Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation, and was the first film released through United Artists, the company he formed with Mary Pickford (his future wife), Charlie Chaplin, and legendary director D. W. Griffith.The film was released on November 27, 1920. Once again, the amazing Dennis James was on the Mighty Wurlitzer!

The second film was THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK, which was co-presented by the Film Noir Foundation and introduced by the Czar of Noir himself Eddie Muller (the founder of the SF Film Noir  Festival). Directed by Josef von Sternberg, the film's about a ship "stocker" (a man who stokes coals for the ship) named Bill Roberts (George Bancroft) who saves a beautiful woman named Mae (Betty Compson) from drowning. Mae was trying to commit suicide because she is poor, has no money, and is ashamed that she has to resort to becoming a prostitute. Feeling sorry for her, Bill "marries" Mae that same night. Sternberg really does a fantastic job of creating the atmospheric mood of the docks, even though it was all shot on a set! Both Bancroft and Compson have great on-screen chemistry and play well off each other. The film was recently included in a boxset entitled 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg, released by the fine folks at the Criterion Collection! The film was released by Paramount Pictures on September 16, 1928. The great Donald Sosin accompanied the film on the grand piano.

The third film of the day was the Swedish romantic comedy EROTIKON. Now when I first saw the film in the program, I thought to myself, "Gee, the festival just showed this film like 2 years ago. I wonder why they're showing it again?" Well, lo and behold, this was a different EROTIKON!! The one I saw a couple of years ago was a Czech film that was directed by Gustav Machaty in 1929! This version was directed by Mauritz Stiller and was about a entomologist who knew more about the sex life of insects than his own wife's. Actually, the wife is having a great sex life her lover, which is fine with her husband  because his in love with his wife's niece! So for you trying to work this out on a flow chart, forget about it! This was the craziest, and hilarious comedy about incest that I have ever seen! You have to see this film to believe it! In fact, the film is available on DVD by the gang over at Kino Lorber International! The film was originally released by AB Svensk Filmindustri (say that five times fast!) in Sweden on November 8, 1920. Providing the musical accompaniment was the always fabulous The Mattie Bye Ensemble.

Film number four has been hailed as, "One of the saddest films ever made." The film STELLA DALLAS was introduced by, once again, Eddie Muller, who professed that he still cries at the end of the film! OK, now all of you out there might be more familiar with the 1937 version with Barbara Stanwyck. The film was producer Samuel Goldwyn's favorite, which is why it's the only film of his that he ever remade! This version was directed by Henry King and adapted from the Olive Higgins Prouty novel by Frances Marion, who was at one time the highest paid writer in Hollywood, male and female. The film stars Belle Bennett as Stella Dallas, a small town girl who loathes her life and dreams of a better way of life. She gets to have that dream when she meets and marries the successful Stephen Dallas (Ronald Colman ), who only came to this small town to escape his father's scandal and tragic suicide. However, when Stephen's work offers him a promotion out in the Big City (New York I think), Stella flat out refuses, and wishes to stay behind to care for their daughter Laurel (Lois Moran). Stella still is a small town girl at heart, and through she tries, she still can't seem to fit into high society,  which causes major embarrassment for Laurel. Also to make Stella's life more complicated, Stephen has fallen in love with high class society woman Helen Morrison (Alice Joyce). Sensing her daughter's embarrassment of her, and fearing the her daughter will not be accepted because of her, Stella has Laurel go live with her father and new mother. The ending is just unbelievably sad and I challenge you all out there NOT to cry at the end!

Belle Bennett absolutely steals the show from everyone else. Her performance is unforgettable and heartbreaking. Even though her character makes some mistakes in the beginning, she has a big heart, and lots of love for her beloved daughter. We cry and grieve with her, as she tries to set things right, and fights for her daughter's happiness and well being. If you're looking for a great mother-daughter film to watch, then this film is for you! The movie was produced by the Samuel Goldwyn Company and released by United Artists on November 16, 1925.  The great Stephen Horne was on the grand piano for this program!

And then we reached the final program of the festival. Before the main feature, the festival screened the newly restored, long lost color print of Georges Méliès' silent film classic A TRIP TO THE MOON (1902.) Now I saw this film back in September of last year when I went down to Hollywood for my vacation. Many of the audience members had not seen this print, which by the way, is available on Blu-Ray and DVD by the gang at Flicker Alley! The audience absolutely went bannas for the film! It looked incredible on the Castro's gigantic screen! Everybody cheered with delight while watching this iconic silent classic! Once again, Stephen Horne was on the grand piano!

The closing night film of the festival was a silent comedy classic starring Mr. Stoneface himself, Buster Keaton. THE CAMERAMAN was Keaton's first film for MGM under his new contract. Our friend portrays a tin-type photographer who falls madly in love with Sally (Marceline Day), a secretary who works for MGM Newsreels. To be close to her, he abandons in his old camera career and attempts to become a motion picture cameraman. Soon Buster is out on the streets, shooting anything and everything, but there's just one problem: he's not very good. But when Sally gives him a tip on a hot story, he rushes into what I think is one of the funniest action scenes ever captured onto celluloid! Helping Buster out is his new partner: a talented street preforming monkey who knows how to work a movie camera! Yes folks, it's that funny!

As I previously stated, this was Keaton's first film for MGM. However, within a year of his contract, the studio took away Keaton's creative control over his pictures, which in the long run harmed his career. He would later say that his move to MGM was "the worst mistake of my career." But fans have called it his best work, and it was added to the National Film Registry in 2005! The film was released to theaters on September 22, 1928. In 2004, Turner Classic Movies (TCM as it's affectionately known) released a boxset entitled Buster Keaton Collection, which included THE CAMERAMAN as well as two other films. The musical accompaniment for the film was performed by the always amazing The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Well folks, there you have it! Another SF Silent Film Festival has come to a close. I just want to say hi to all my friends that I got to see again, and to all my new friends that I meet this year, I cannot wait to see you all again at next year's festival! I had so much fun this past weekend! If you'd like to learn more about the SF Silent Film Festival, and how to become a member, visit their website at

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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