Friday, September 21, 2018

Phil attends the GREATEST HITS BY CLUB FOOT ORCHESTRA at the Castro Theatre - September 15, 2018

Greetings from San Francisco! I'm back up here in the City by the Bay to partake in another great silent film event, presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. This incredible event was called GREATEST HITS BY CLUB FOOT ORCHESTRA! According to their Facebook biography: The Club Foot Orchestra is a music ensemble founded in 1983 by Richard Marriott. After a brief career playing dramatic, complex music in San Francisco clubs, they became known for their equally dramatic and complex scores for classic silent movies. The ensemble got their name from a performance art nightclub called the "Club Foot" which flourished in the Bayview district of San Francisco. Marriott, who lived upstairs, formed a house band that came to be called the "Club Foot Orchestra". As you probably guessed, I was super pumped for this event!! Never before have I ever heard of one band doing an entire silent film event. As you read from previous posts from my silent film trips, there's usually multiple musicians or orchestras providing musical accompaniments, but this would be the first time I've ever heard of just one orchestra doing the whole thing! As I arrived to the Castro Theatre, I made my way to the front row to take in all this excitement! At one o'clock, the lights dimmed and the show began!

The afternoon started with the silent comedies. First was a Felix the Cat cartoon entitled FELIX WOOS WHOOPEE (1928). In this animation short,Felix is up all night at the Whoopee Club, having a hell of a time, overindulging himself with drink, and dancing about with another inebriated friend. Meanwhile, at home, his angry wife Kitty is pacing up and down in front of the clock, which reads 3 a.m. Finally leaving the nightclub, Felix drunkenly tries to make his way home without Kitty finding out. He encounters scary apparitions- weird monsters and other vivid figments of his imagination- on his way home. Finally, Felix sneaks home and into bed, but he continues to fight his monsters, only to find that he is fighting his pillow in the midst of a nightmare. This was a trippy cartoon, way ahead of the norm of seeing the usual pink elephants. After that, it was time for some classic Buster Keaton shorts!

Buster Keaton & Sybil Seely in ONE WEEK (1920)
The first short screened was ONE WEEK (1920): Buster and Sybil Seely play newlyweds that attempts to build a do-it-yourself house kit. However her jealous ex sabotages the kit's component numbering, thus the house is less than perfect when completed! Next up was THE BLACKSMITH (1922): Buster clowns around in a blacksmith's shop until he and the smithy get in a fight which sends the smithy to jail. Buster helps several customers with horses, then destroys a Rolls Royce while fixing the car parked next to it. The last short shown was one of my favorites! COPS (1922) is a funny, funny, funny film! In a series of mishaps that plague our poor Buster, it all ends with him being chased by every single policemen in town! And I mean EVERY policemen!! It also boasts appearances by Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox, and Edward F. Cline as a hobo. The film was written and directed by Keaton as well as Cline. It was produced by Joseph M. Schenck Productions and released by First National in March of 1922.

Conrad Veidt & Lil Dagover in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
The second film of the day was one I've seen many times, but still enjoy.  THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920) is a prime example of German Expressionism at its finest. The film tells the story of a mad doctor who trains a sleepwalker named Cesare (Conrad Veidt) to kill people in order to study the effects of somnambulism. To this day the film, and its ending, still gives me the shivers.

With its distorted sets, bizarre lighting and shadows painted on canvases, and deformed spaces, the film achieves its nightmarish imagery right from the start and doesn't let you go till it twisted ending. Director Robert Wiene forever changed the face of German cinema as well as cinema itself. Many Universal horror filmmakers have cited the German Expressionism films as their inspiration for DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, and many others. The film was originally released by Decla-Bioscop in Germany on February 26, 1920. It was imported here in the states by Goldwyn Distributing Company on March 19, 1921. The film is available on a special edition Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Brigitte Helm in METROPOLIS (1927)
Up next was a film that I had the pleasure of watching here at the Castro Theatre several years ago during the SFSFF 2010, one whole year before I started this blog. METROPOLIS (1927): In the future, the society of Metropolis is divided in two social classes: the workers, who live in the underground below the machines level, and the dominant classes that lives in the surface. The workers are controlled by their leader Maria, who wants to find a mediator between the upper class lords and the workers, since she believes that a heart would be necessary between brains and muscles. Maria meets Freder Fredersen, the son of the Lord of Metropolis Johhan Fredersen, in a meeting of the workers, and they fall in love for each other. Meanwhile, Johhan decides that the workers are no longer necessary for Metropolis, and uses a robot pretending to be Maria to promote a revolution of the working class and eliminate them.

Again, seeing it back in 2010 was extraordinary! The stunning resurrection of Fritz Lang’s futuristic film to its epic original cut, a version believed forever lost, began in a modest Buenos Aires cinema museum in the spring of 2008, when a rusted film can turned out to contain a 16mm negative of the entire 150-minute silent film. Spliced together with the 35mm nitrate film, it's now the most complete version of the film ever! It was released on a special edition Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Ma Shreck in NOSFERATU (1922)
After a quick dinner break, I was back in the front row, awaiting the final movie of the day! NOSFERATU (1922): The story of the film goes as follows: a real estate agent named Knock sends his assistant Hutter to Transylvania to have some paperwork signed by his new client Count Orlok, who just happened to purchase the old, deserted house right across the street from Hutter. However his innocent wife Ellen senses danger on his journey, and she is correct. From the moment he arrives at the Count's castle, strange occurrences unfold, and when Orlock leaves for his new home, the shroud of death follows him across the sea and to his final destination; Wisbourg, Germany. It is here where the lovely Ellen realizes that only she can put an end the Count's reign of terror.

With his rodent-like face, long spider fingers, and soul piercing eyes that will make your skin crawl, Max Shreck's performance as Court Orlock has become an icon in not just silent horror films, but for the horror genre in general. Few can come close to achieve his personification of dread and evil, a creature devoid of humanity and pathos. While the vampire itself has evolved, thanks to actors such as Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, Klaus Kinski (who stared in the 1979 remake), and Willem Dafoe (who portrays Max Schreck in the 2001 film SHADOWS OF THE VAMPIRE), none have come close to capture the feel of death and darkness  as Schreck achieved back in 1922. The film was released on a special edition Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

And that my friends is a wrap! What a great time I had!! And major props to the Club Foot Orchestra for doing an amazing job providing music for all the films!! I can't wait to come back here to the Castor Theatre for the SFSFF's  A DAY OF SILENTS, which will take place on Saturday, December 1st! Also, mark your calendar for the SFSFF 2019 on May 1st through the 5th!!  Now 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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