Thursday, May 9, 2019

Phil sees AVENGERS: ENDGAME (again) at the Cinelux Plaza Theater - May 6, 2019

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin
Based on the Comic Book by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Starlin
Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cinematography by Trent Opaloch
Edited by Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
Produced by Kevin Feige, Jon Favreau, James Gunn, Stan Lee, Victoria Alonso, Trinh Tran
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

After a long five days of watching silent films in San Francisco, I decided to treat myself to a flick at the Cinelux Theaters. Because I was attending the 24th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I was itching to see a new movie! A plethora of new movies were released, and I was super excited to see them all! But instead, I went and saw AVENGERS: ENDGAME again! Why did I see it again, some of you are asking? Because I felt like it!! Plus I really, really liked the movie!

When I saw it at the Thursday Night Preview screening, I didn't have the best seat to really watch the film and to pay attention to all of the details within its frames. One was why did the Avenger fly Star-lord's ship to confront Thanos when Thor's new battle-axe Stormbreaker can open the Bifröst? How was Steve Rogers able to return the Infinity Stones in their current state when they were all in their original forms? And when Steve returned the Soul Stone to , what was his confrontation with the Red Skull was like? These are just some of the questions that popped in my head upon my second viewing. But overall, I love this freaking movie!

AVENGERS: ENDGAME is currently playing in theaters in 2D, 3D, and IMAX nationwide, including at the Cinelux Theaters here in the Bay Area. To view showtimes, visit their website at www.cineluxtheatres.com.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Phil attends the 24th SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL: DAY FIVE - May 5, 2019

Hello again everybody and welcome to the fifth and final day of my trip to the 24th San Francisco Silent Film Festival! Oh how time flies, especially when you're watching silent movies for the past five days! It was a bittersweet Sunday. Hard to believe that it's all over! *sniff* It's OK, I'm not gonna cry yet. But before I let the fat lady sing, I still have five movies to talk about. So ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, let's get on with the reviews!

The first screening of the day was artistically and emotional JAPANESE GIRLS AT THE HARBOR (MINATO NO NIHON MUSUME). The film focuses on Dora (Yukiko Inoue) and Sunako (Michiko Oikawa), who are best friends and students in Yokohama. The two are inseparable and vow never to let anything come between them. Enter bad boy Henry (Ureo Egawa) and his motorcycle, who in one fell swoop, breaks their vow and steals their hearts. But it's Sunako who's heart is broken, after she finds out from Dora the he's seeing another girl. In a fit of rage, she takes down Henry and his girl, and she kills her. Fast forward years later, and Dora and Henry are married while Sunako lives as a life of prostitution and despair, hoping one day to be worthy of Dora's friendship again.

This is a perfect example of how silent films transcend into works of art. This was the equivalent of a poem being written on celluloid. Director Hiroshi Shimizu crafted one of the most beautiful and emotionally charged films I have ever seen! His directing brings the characters to life as we see how they struggle with being just decent people. It was a breathtaking examination of love, friendship, loyalty, and redemption. I cannot praise the film enough! This was probably one of my favorite films of the festival! The film was originally released in Japan on June 1, 1933. Musical accompaniment was provided by Guenter Buchwald and Sascha Jacobsen.

The second silent movie shown was the Universal drama THE HOME MAKER. Meet Lester Knapp (Clive Brook) and his wife Eva (Alice Joyce). He's unhappy with his job, he gets no respect, and he gets passed over for that big promotion that was supposed to be his. Eva is overwhelmed home maker, can't control her rowdy youngest child, and is constantly cleaning the house. When the house is caught on fire, he tries to commit suicide so his family will have the money they need to start over. Unfortunately, he only manages to cripple himself. Now Lester stays at home, only to find the role of homemaker quite enjoyable and is very happy with himself. Then life takes an unexpected turn when Eva takes a low-paying job with his old company, only to get promoted and rises up the corporate ladder, leaving Lester somewhat jealous.

This was interestingly funny, poignant, and radical film for its time. Here's a movie, with a plot the flips the script of the roles of men and women, and challenges the norms of society. It was very clever of how to go about doing what they did, and the end results reflect today's world. The movie was way ahead of its time, and it speaks volume of where the country would end up! Amazing piece of silent art! The film was originally released by Universal Pictures on November 22, 1925. Musical accompaniment was provided by the great Stephen Horne.

The third film of the day was one I was anxiously waiting to see the whole festival! SHIRAZ: A ROMANCE OF INDIA is a historical romance movie set in the Mughal Empire. Though of royal lineage, Selima (Enakashi Rama Rao) was an infant foundling raised by a kind potter and her adoptive brother, Shiraz (Himansu Rai). She is kidnapped and sold as a slave to Prince Khurram, who would later become Emperor Shah Jehan (Charu Roy). The prince falls for his beautiful slave girl, much to the consternation to dark-hearted schemer Dalia (Seeta Devi) who has her own plans for the prince. When Shiraz tracks down her beloved sibling, their tearful reunion ends after Shiraz is thrown in prison and sentenced to die. Only a pendant -- which proves Selima's royalty -- saves Shiraz's live. Selima marries Emperor Shah Jehan, becoming Empress Mumtaz Mahal. When she dies, the Emperor builds the Taj Mahal in her memory.

I'm a big fan of Indian films and Bollywood films in general, and it was simply extraordinary to see a film from India from the silent film era! Not too many films have survived since, but the cinematography captured the beauty and exotic locations of India of the past! This was such a sight to see and I'm very fortunate and delighted to have seen it at the majestic Castro Theatre! Filmed entirely in and around Agra, the movie was one of three cinematic collaborations between pioneering actor/producer Himansu Rai and German-born director Franz Osten. The film was originally released in Germany by Universum Film (UFA) on December 20, 1928. Musical accompaniment was provided by the talented Utsav Lal.

After an hour lunch break, it was time for another dramatic Swedish export silent entitled SIR ARNE'S TREASURE (SIR ARNES PENGAR). A trio of Scottish mercenaries -- Sir Filip (Erik Stocklassa), Sir Donald (Bror Berger) and Sir Archi (Richard Lund) -- escape from prison. As winter rages, they arrive at the mansion of Arne (Hjalmar Selander). They loot Arne's treasure and burn the house, killing everyone inside except for an orphan girl, Elsalill (Mary Johnson). Despite the circumstances, Elsalill becomes romantically involved with Sir Archi, unaware that the stolen treasure might lead to disaster.

Another classic example of how European silent films were superior than the American movies. Their set-ups and compositions, the storylines and complex characters, harsh and beautiful landscapes. Whenever I watch a foreign film, I look at it and think just how advance they were with the art of filmmaking. They really took chances on the way they made their films, the subject matters, and at times political and social commentaries. And another film I enjoyed immensely. The film was originally released in Sweden by Svenska Bios Filmbyrå on September 18, 1919. Musical accompaniment was provided by the amazing The Matti Bye Ensemble.

And then it was time for the closing night film of the festival! As we opened the festival with Buster Keaton, it only seemed fitting that we would end it with another one of his all-time classics! OUR HOSPITALITY finds Keaton playing a character named Willie McKay, who travels from New York (where he's been living with his aunt since he was an infant) back to his hometown after he receives a letter saying he has inherited his father's estate. Unbeknownst to Willie that his family has been locked in a deadly feud with rival family the Canfields. They learn of Willie's arrival and plan to kill him off, but he falls for a lovely woman on the train ride named Virginia (Natalie Talmadge), who just happens to be the daughter of the Canfields patriarch Joseph (Joe Roberts). Crazy stunts, hilarious sight gags, and a sincere, but comedic, love story soon unfolds for Willie and Virginia.

It's been a long time since I've watched this, and it's still just as funny than when I first saw it. Keaton is my favorite comedian of this era of cinema. More than Chaplin or Lloyd. Reason is that there was something magical in his performance. He always had that same look on his face, but it was his eyes that were so expressive. In his eyes you can tell if he's happy, sad, confused, angry, or scared. He had a range of emotions and he could say all those feeling with only his eyes. Of course, it also helped that he made some of the greatest slapstick comedies of all time! Natalie Talmadge is the middle sister of Constance and Norma Talmadge, and was married to Keaton from 1921 till they divorced in 1932. The film was originally released by Metro Pictures Corporation on November 19, 1923. Musical accompaniment was provided by the astounding 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 (dates for it has yet to be revealed) but there two more events coming up later this year! On Saturday, October 19th, the SFSFF will be having an event called JANE'S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, and then on December 7th will be A DAY OF SILENTS event! Check their website for more information as it follows.  I had so much fun this past weekend! Now if you'd like to learn more about the SF Silent Film Festival, and how to become a member, visit their website at www.silentfilm.org.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Phil attends the 24th SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL: DAY FOUR - May 4, 2019

Hello again and and welcome to Day Four of my trip to the 24th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival! Holy cow! I have seen some truly amazing silent films thus far at the festival! So far I have seen a staggering 12 films! For today, I woke up early, took a nice warm shower, and drove from San Jose back up to the city to watch a total of six more films! Kids, don't try this at home. I am a trained professional! And with that, let the reviews begin!

The first screening of the day was the silent comedy LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY starring the lovely and funny Marion Davies. In the film, Davies plays twins who were separated at birth aboard a ship traveling to the states. Anne is adopted by a wealthy family in New York’s high society circle, while Fey lives with her poor but loving Irish family in the city's slums. Life for Fey changes forever when, on her way to her job at the music hall in the Lower East Side, she meets Dirk de Rhonde (Conrad Nagel), who just happens to be Anne's brother! Unfortunately, their fathers do not like each other at all, and they blame each other for their current woes and situations. Hilarious shenanigans transpire, but when a mob of angry Irishmen plane to take out Dirk's father, it's up to Fey to save the day and unite their families.

Based on the Broadway play of the same name, the movie was produced by William Randolph Hearst's company Cosmopolitan Productions. Davies is funny, beautiful, and was so damn talented and lovable that I found myself falling for her as well! The movie benefited from a good script, and great directing from Monta Bell. It also featured the use of tinting, Technicolor, and the Handschiegl color process. Another fabulous film starring the great Marion Davies! The film was originally released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) on November 1925. Musical accompaniment was provided by the great Philip Carli.

Movie number two had a short film before it called BROWNIE'S LITTLE VENUS and starred the last living silent film star and close friend to the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Baby Peggy, aka Diana Serra Cary. She co-stars with Brownie the Wonder Dog as they both help her parents in foiling a burglar's crime spree! A classic short comedy that showed us just how talented and adorable Baby Peggy was. Fan fact: she was only eighteen months old when she made the film! At her age I couldn't walk properly yet! And here she was making movies! Damn I sucked as a toddler!

The main feature was the western HELL BENT directed by the iconic John Ford. Harry Carey stars as Cheyenne Harry, a card cheatin' cowboy he heads for Rawhide to start anew. There he meets his new best buddy  Cimmaron Bill (Duke Lee) and gets a job working at the town dance hall where he falls for Bess Thurston, portrayed by Neva Gerber. Things become crazy for Cheyenne as Bess' lazy, good-for-nuthin' brother ack (Vester Pegg) teams up with riffraff Beau Ross (Joseph Harris) to plan a heist, then he kidnaps Bess, which forces Cheyenne to do the right thing and go rescue his love and bring Beau back to Rawhide to face justice.

John Ford (named Jack Ford here) has become synonymous with the western genre and with good reason. No one made a western film quite like John Ford. NO ONE!! Period! Even in this early stage of his career, we see his style beginning to form: the sweeping landscapes, his moral code of good and bad, where men were men and men died for what they believed in. Carey worked with Ford on several films, and here Cary perfects the anti-hero cowboy that drove him to success! The film was originally released by Universal Pictures on July 6, 1918. Musical accompaniment was provided once again by the great Philip Carli.

After a quick break, I was ready for the film of the day! And this was an interesting screening. The film GOONA GOONA (yes that it the actual title) is something unique. Told to an anthropologist about a prince falls in love with a low class girl, but cannot marry her. His scheming sister gets goona-goona (a narcotic plant mixture) and feeds it to the girl. The prince rapes the girl while she is drugged, but leaves behind his kris (ceremonial knife), leading to tragedy. That's the plot in a nutshell.

Also known as GOONA GOONA: AN AUTHENTIC MELODRAMA OF THE ISLE OF BALI, LOVE POWDER, and KRISS: THE SWORD OF DEATH, this would be the movie that would kick off a subgenre of exploitation films called Bali-sploitation. In fact, the term goona-goona refers to native-culture exploitation films set in exotic locations like the Far East, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific. These movies rely heavily on stock footage of travelogues that feature semi-nude native peoples performing exotic rituals, traditions, and customs and were often interspliced with new footage shot here in the states. These pseudo-documentary films were very popular in the exploitation genre, with some titles to be considered to be cult classics like VIRGINS OF BALI, BEAUTY IN BALI, and MAU MAU. The film was originally released to theaters by First Division Pictures in 1931. Musical accompaniment was provided by the amazing Club Foot Gamelan, the combination of Club Foot Orchestra and Gamelan Sekar Jaya.

The fourth film I watched was the French drama L’HOMME DU LARGE (MAN OF THE OPEN SEAS. Devout Breton fisherman Nolff has taken a vow of silence and lives as a hermit beside the sea. Reasons for this is sad and depressing. As we flashback to see his story unfold, the tale begins when his wife gives birth to his son, Michel. He comes to the decision to have his wife raise their daughter while he raises his son to become a great fisherman like himself. But as we see, Michel grows up to become a punk young man who spends his time in taverns with his so-called friends, whom have a bad influence on him. This affects the family, especially when his mother is on her deathbed and he's nowhere to be found. Once Nolff finds him, he sends him off to the sea to be judged.

Like I stated earlier, this was really a sad and depressing movie, but really artistically poetic and meaningful. I hated the son and his dad, I felt sorry for the mom and sister, and I really wished someone would punish that damn kid! Anyway, filmmaker Marcel L'Herbier based the film on a short story by Honoré de Balzac. A rare and outstanding gem of a silent film! The film was originally released to theaters in France by Comptoir Ciné-Location Gaumont on December 3, 1920. Musical accompaniment was provided by Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius with intertitle narration by Paul McGann.

Up next was director Erich von Stroheim's epic love drama THE WEDDING MARCH. Here, Stroheim portrays Prince Nikki, Lieutenant of the Guard in pre WWI Vienna, is flat broke, but the only advice he gets from his parents is either to shoot himself or to marry money. During the Chorpus Christi parade his horse accidentally hurts poor Mitzi (Fay Wray), the daughter of inn-keepers in a Viennese suburb, who are trying to get her going to marry the local butcher Schani (Matthew Betz). When Nikki visits her at the hospital, they fall in love, much to the chagrin of her parents and Schani. While this happening, Nikki's parents have arranged a prospective marriage with Cecilia (Zasu Pitts), the limping daughter of a very rich non-aristocratic industrial. Will Nikki follow his heart, or would he marry money instead?

Well, it doesn't get more melodramatic than this people!! And what an ending!! I thought how it could end like it did, but then I remembered that this was a Erich von Stroheim film, so I was fine with its conclusion. The beautiful Fay Wray was only eighteen years old when she made the film, while Stroheim was forty-three years young. Looking back on it now, it looks kinda creepy, but hey, it's his movie! The story went back and forth, tugging on the audiences' heartstrings, and when it reached its ending, there was a gasp in the theatre! I absolutely loved the film! Stroheim made a sequel called THE HONEYMOON in 1930 and it picks up right where this one left off. This was one of best Stroheim films from the silent era! The film was originally released to theaters by Paramount Pictures on October 6, 1928. Musical accompaniment was provided by the beloved Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

The sixth and final film of the night was L'INFERNO (DANTE'S INFERNO), another export silent from Italy. Loosely adapted from Dante's Divine Comedy and inspired by the illustrations of Gustav Doré, the film chronicles poet Virgil as he guides the lost Dante through the 9 Levels of Hell, at the request of Beatrice. During his journey, Dante witnesses unspeakable horrors, as he and Virgil make their way to Paradise.

While visually sticking and containing some truly horrific imagery and amazing special effects, the film was soooo sloooowwww. It was shot like a staged, static style with no camera movement at all, and even though its run time was only 116 minutes, it felt like three hours. But there is a gratuitous amount of nudity, so that was interesting. The film was originally released to theaters in Italy by Milano Films on March 10, 1911. Musical accompaniment was provided once again by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

And that's the end of Day Four of the 24th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival! And with one day left, you don't want to miss out on all the screenings I saw on the final day! To view the festival's film schedule, purchase tickets and passes, location of hotels to stay at during the festival, please visit their official website at www.silentfilm.org.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Phil attends the 24th SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL: DAY THREE - May 3, 2019

Greetings and salutations and welcome to Day Three of my trip to the 24th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival! After the first two days, I was on a silent film high! With the exception of three movies, I have never seen any of the other films playing at the festival, let alone heard of them or know of their existence. This is what makes me so excited about attending the festival year after year after year! So, let's talk about all the wonderful silent films I saw today, shall we?

The first movie was the love triangle drama entitled YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN. Magician and escape artist Norodin (Clive Brook) and his partner Vera (Florence Vidor) are performers in a traveling Russian circus troupe. He is madly in love with Vera, but she doesn't recuperate those same feelings for him. But when pompously rich aristocrat Eugene Foster (Lowell Sherman) enters the picture, she falls for him but under false conditions. And he won't stop until Vera is all his, by any means necessary.

Now this was a great dramatic love story that really gets you invested emotionally! You couldn't help feel sympathy for Norodin, as he wears his heart on his sleeve, only to have Vera dismiss it. Both Vidor and Brook have great chemistry together, and Foster made for a great heel performance. The film's director William Wellman went on to become a very successful filmmaker, and is best known for the 1927 Academy Award-winning film WINGS and as the writer/director of the original 1937 film A STAR IS BORN. Due to his larger-than-life personality and lifestyle, he was also known as "Wild Bill," the nicknamed he was bestowed upon with during his time as an aviator during World War I. The film was originally released by Paramount Pictures on September 20, 1926. Musical accompaniment was provided by the great Philip Carli.

The second movie I saw was TONKA OF THE GALLOWS (TONKA SIBENICE), an intense Czechoslovakian drama.Big city woman Tonka (Ita Rina) comes back home to visit her mother in their small town and showers her with gifts. Little does her mother know that Tonka is actually a
prostitute, who on one fateful day, accepts an offer form the police to spend the night with a condemned man before he is to executed the next day. Because of her selfless deed, she becomes condemned herself and thus is cast disowned by her mom and her fiance. Shunned by society, she becomes a homeless drunk, but can she be redeemed by those who chastised her, but more importantly, can she learn to forgive herself?

Rina is just so stunningly breathtaking in the movie, and she is one of the finest actresses I have ever seen from this era! I was memorized by her beauty, her pose, and her performance, which was heartbreakingly exquisite!! How in the hell have I not heard of her before? I'm making it a mission to learn about this overlooked actresses! Karl Anton did an amazing job of directing the film, capturing the painful story of our poor unfortunate Tonka! The film was originally released in on March 4, 1930. Musical accompaniment was provided by the always incredible Stephen Horne.

Next up was HUSBANDS AND LOVERS, a smart and hilarious comedy that tickled my funny bones! Grace Livingston (Florence Vidor) is married to her ungrateful and insensitive husband James (Lewis Stone). After feeling mistreated and talked down to, she flips the table and decides to work on her self-image and makes James to fend for himself. But when James' friend and co-worker Rex Phillips (Lew Cody) sees Grace all dolled up, he pays attention to her and soon the both develop feelings for one another. While their love grows, James must contemplate whether to break them up or bow out the picture gracefully.

Co-writer and director John M. Stahl is best known for the 1945 film noir film LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. Florence Vidor proved that she had grace and beauty while showing off her comedic timing. Lewis Stone played a terrific jerk off, but then redeemed himself in the end. Overall, I found the film delightful, funny, and charming! The film was originally released by First National Pictures on November 2, 1924. Musical accompaniment was provided again by the great Philip Carli.

After a quick break, it was time to watch RAPSODIA SATANICA, an interesting export from Italy. A variation on the Faust myth, the film's about Contessa Alba d'Oltrevita (Lyda Borelli), an elderly woman who makes a deal with the demon Mephisto (Ugo Bazzini) to make her youth and beautiful again. However, there is a catch (of course there is) and it's that she must stay away from love or she will lose her new found beauty. But right after this, she meets Tristano (Andrea Habay) and Sergio (Giovanni Cini), two brothers who fall madly in love with her. The question becomes whether or not she can resist their love, and which brother wins her heart?

Upon the conclusion of the film, two things popped in my mind. The first on was, "Wow! That was a fast, short film!" The second thought was how poetic and artistic it was. It examination on themes such as life, love, and death are subjects that we still deal with to this very day. Plus there were scenes that were colorized with stencil-colors, which gave those particular scenes a veil of depth and importance. Unfortunately, this would be the final film for its director Nino Oxilia, who passed away on November 18, 1917. The film was originally released in Italy by Società Italiana Cines in July 1917. Musical accompaniment was provided by the beloved Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Film number five was the German export THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY (DIE LIEBE DER JEANNE NEY). Set the Crimea after the Soviet Revolution,, the Reds and the Whites aren't done fighting, and Jeanne (Édith Jéhanne) discovers her man Andreas Labov (Uno Henning) is a Bolshevik soilder (he even kills her father, but that doesn't stop her from loving him). After losing her father's home and fortune, she leave for Paris, where she works as a secretary for her uncle Raymond (Adolph Edgar Licho) private eye office. Soon after, Andreas arrives in France to organize the sailors in Toulon. Also in town is the no good sleazebag Khalibiev (Fritz Rasp), who wants Jeanne in the worse way. His plan includes marrying Raymond's blind daughter Gabrielle (Brigitte Helm), then kill her afterwards, steal a priceless diamond from Raymond's safe, and run away with Jeanne! The only thing that stands in his way is Andreas, but even he might be no match for Khalibiev's evil scheme.

This was a stellar crime drama that was filled with twists and turns and in the middle was a great love drama! Filled with political and social commentary, espionage, and mind-blowing camerawork and compositions, the movie felt way ahead of its time! It was an extraordinary cinema experience and I'm hoping this movie is available on Blu-Ray!! Another aspect I loved was seeing Brigitte Helm as the blind and naive Gabrielle. Helm is most famously recognized as Maria in Firtz Lang's 1927 sci-fi classic METROPOLIS. The film was originally released by Universum Film (aka UFA) in Germany on December 6, 1927. Musical accompaniment was provided by the Guenter Buchwald Ensemble: Guenter, Frank Bockius, and Sascha Jacobsen.

The sixth and final film of the night was a classic that I've seen several times before, but never at the Castro Theatre. WEST OF ZANZIBAR stars The Man of a Thousand Faces himself, the great Lon Cahney Sr. as The Great Phroso, a magician whose wife Anna (Jacqueline Gadsdon) leaves him for another man Crane (Lionel Barrymore). After their fight leaves Phroso crippled, be vows revenge against him and takes their illegitimate daughter Maizie (Mary Nolan) with him. Eighteen years later, he has been living in East Africa under the name "Dead Legs." He begins to put his plan for revenge in motion, only to have Crane turn his plan against him when he unveils the shocking truth about Maizie's true parentage!

Director Todd Browning was well known for making dark, disturbing, and macabre movies with controversial topics and bizarre subject matters. Both Browning and Chaney made a total of ten movies together, and they were planning on making DRACULA for Universal. Unfortunately, Chaney passed away from throat hemorrhage on The film was originally released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) on November 24, 1928. Musical accompaniment was provided once again by Stephen Horne and percussionist Frank Bockius.

And that was Day Three of the 24th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival! I'm getting down to the wire, with only two more days left! To view the festival's film schedule, purchase tickets and passes, location of hotels to stay at during the festival, please visit their official website at www.silentfilm.org.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Phil attends the 24th SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL: DAY TWO - May 2, 2019

Hello again folks and welcome to Day Two of my trip to the 24th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival! Today I saw five films and a presentation that has been a time honored tradition of the festival. Oh, before I forget, I was able to take time off from work, and so, I was able to see the entire festival!! Oh yeah baby!! Again, it's been four years since I've attend the SFSFF and I was so excited to be back in the City by the Bay! The bad part was that since hotels are so damn expensive, I had to commute to and from the festival, which is an hour drive both ways. But I can't complain cause I was back! So let's not waste anymore time, and let's get the show on the road!

At 10am the festival had a free admission to their annual TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES, which has garnered a lot attention. This year's ARCHIVES presentation was probably one of my favorites, due to its incredible importance to film preservation. First up was the dynamic duo of SFSFF Board President Robert Byrne and researcher Thierry Lecointe their "cinematic wonders they discovered" in what is called fin de siècle novelty flipbooks. What's cool about these flipbooks that they would feature films like from the great Georges Méliès. Also, some of these cinematic flipbooks would be of lost films. They were scanned and then shown up on the screen! Next up was Stefan Drössler, who's the head of Filmmuseum München. He talked about the restoration of Robert Reinert’s OPIUM (which was screened later that day) and the rise of German Cinema at the conclusion of WWI. Up next was the director of the National Film Archive of Japan Hisashi Okajim, and he discussed about the Mina Talkie Sound System that was used for Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1926 drama FURUSATO. Last, but not least, was an old friend of the festival Bruce Goldstein, the director of repertory programming at New York’s Film Forum and founder of Rialto Pictures. He talked about how “Silents Got No Respect”once talkies became all the rage, and how a majority of the Hollywood studios dismissed their own heritage. Musical accompaniment was provided by the awesome Stephen Horne. Overall, this was a very informative, insightful, and funny program!

The first film of the day was the western WOLF SONG, directed by Hollywood legend director Victor Fleming. Set in the year 1840, it stars another legend Gary Cooper as Sam Lash, a trapper who loves the Great Wide Open. However, he finds something else to love, rather someone, in the form of Lola, played by the absolutely stunning Lupe Velez!! They fall hard in love with one another, with wedding bells shortly thereafter. But the Wolf Song he hears beckons him to leave Lola and head out once more. But what love will he chooses?

Good grief was this a great movie! Fleming's directing was smooth, fluid, and looked amazing! Cooper was great as always, but his on-screen chemistry with Velez was smoldering and intense! Eventually, these two would also get married in real life! The film was originally released by Paramount Pictures on March 30, 1929. Musical accompaniment was provided by the great Philip Carli.

Film number two was THE OYSTER PRINCESS (DIE AUSTERNPRINZESSIN), directed by and starring the crazy talented Ernst Lubitsch. Oyster-king Quaker (Victor Janson) cannot be impressed anymore. He is so rich that he even has a special butler holding his cigar while he is smoking. The only thing Quaker would be impressed by is if his daughter Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) were to marry a real prince. He makes an offer to the poor prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke), who sends his friend Josef (Julius Falkenstein) to get a clear idea of the woman. In short, they get married and hilarious shenanigans ensues!

Holy hell was this movie funny!! This was Lubitsch's first real comedic movie and it was hilarious! The "Wedding Foxtrot" scene was one of the funniest things ever captured on celluloid! I was almost in tears, but the complexity of it all was so damn impressive! That scene alone must have taken days to rehearse and shoot! The film was released on DVD by Kino Lorber as part of their  Lubitsch in German 5-Disc DVD Boxset and also VOD. The film was released in Germany by Universum Film (aka UFA) on June 26, 1919. Musical accompaniment was by Wayne Barker, making his second appearance at the festival.

The third silent of the day was the Russian drama EARTH (ZEMLYA). The film was director Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s third installment of his “Ukraine Trilogy." Here, a small group of rich and poor landowners begin to fight with one another when they receive a tractor as a gift from the Bolshevik government. Soon, tensions begin rise, which leads to mistrust, betrayal, and eventually death.

Truth be told, while I enjoyed the film's visuals, quick edits, and social commentary, I found it kinda boring and it seriously dragged in points of the film. Granted, this is an artistic achievement unto itself, it didn't have the flare like  Sergei Eisenstein. Granted, no one can compare with Eisenstein, but Dovzhenko tries his damnest to achieve this. Originally released in the USSR on October 30, 1930, many Soviets viewed the film negatively due to its exploration of death and other dark issues that came with revolution. It was released here in the states that same year by Amkino Corporation with English title cards inserted. Musical accompaniment was provided by extraordinary The Matti Bye Ensemble, who received a standing ovation for their performance!

After a short break, it was time for silent film number five! THE SIGNAL TOWER stars Rockcliffe Fellowes as a signal towerman who works in the redwood forest of Mendocino on the Fort Bragg railroad line. He's got a beautiful wife Sally (Virginia Valli) and kid Sonny (Frankie Darro). Life is great, but new towerman Joe Standish (Wallace Beery) comes into the picture, things become bad, and it soon escalates as Joe sets his sights on Sally! Things become worse when a runaway train on a dark and stormy night threatens to crash into another train!

This was a brand new restoration print by the SFSFF and icon Kevin Brownlow's Photoplay Productions and the results were awesome! Director Clarence Brown would go on to direct many other films, including FLESH AND THE DEVIL, THE GOOSE WOMAN (which I saw here at the festival years ago), ANNA CHRISTIE, NATIONAL VELVET, and ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD. The film was originally released by Universal Pictures on July 20, 1924. Musical accompaniment was provided by Stephen Horne and percussionist Frank Bockius.

The final screening of the night was the aforementioned earlier German drama OPIUM. The film's about a Chinese opium dealer Nung-Tschang (Werner Krauss) who takes his revenge on Professor Gesellius (Eduard von Winterstein), who is a Westener and it was a Westener who corrupted his wife. But the good Professor saves a young woman from his evil opium den and brings her back home, which doesn't sit well with his wife, who's in love with the Professor's favorite student, who then dies and now his wife blames him for her lover's death. What's the Professor do now? How can he deal with such loss? How can he overcome his grief? With opium, of course!!

This was one of the most bonkers silent film I have ever seen! Geez, I have no idea where to begin! Well, it wasn't boring, that's for sure! I have to say that this was one of the most over-acted, over-exaggerated, overdone anti-drug move I have ever seen! I would pair this movie with REFER MADNESS as a double bill! It was that over-the-top and it was hysterical! Granted, this was obviously not what the filmmaker Robert Reinert intended it to be, but it came across that way. Now I'm looking at it with 2019 eyes and not 1919. But the end result is that I loved this movie! The film was originally released in Germany by Stern-Film in January 29, 1919. Musical accompaniment was provided by Guenter Buchwald, who did a great job with his performance!

And that was Day Two of the festival! I'm having so much fun here! And to think, I still had three more days of silent cinemas to watch! To view the festival's film schedule, purchase tickets and passes, location of hotels to stay at during the festival, please visit their official website at www.silentfilm.org.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Phil attends the Opening Night of the 24th SAN FRANCISCO SILENT FILM FESTIVAL at the Castro Theatre - May 1, 2019

After a long five year absence, I finally made my way to the City by the Bay to attend the fantastic San Francisco Silent Film festival!! Again, the last time I attended the festival was back in 2014, not counting the Greatest Hits by Club Foot Orchestra one day event I attended back in September of 2018. This was a very big deal to me, and I could not wait to emerse myself again in this cinematic treasure trove of long, lost, rarely seen silent films!

I arrived to the historic Castro Theatre (aka The Cathedral of Cinema) early to help set-up the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum table up on the mezzanine. It was nice to have the theatre quiet and pretty much all to myself. I made my way to the front row, where I picked out my favorite seat for tonight's opening film, and boy oh boy, was I ever looking forward to seeing it again!!

Before the film, the festival The 2019 SFSFF Award for commitment to the preservation of silent cinema will be presented to Gian Luca Farinelli on behalf of the Cineteca di Bologna before the screening. The Italian archive has taken the lead in restoring Keaton’s entire body of work.

The opening 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 film that was shown was the new 4k digital restoration undertaken by The Criterion Collection, Warner Bros., and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. The musical accompaniment was done by Timothy Brock conducting the amazing and crazy talented students of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music! These students blew me away with their high level of musicianship!! I hope the festival has them come back next year!

After the film, we all made our way to the after party, which was held yet again at the McRoskey Mattress Company building down on Market Street! There were food, fine wines and some very good micro beers for the guests to enjoy while listening to great music! Fun was had by all!

What a night I had! And there's still four more days of silent films to watch! So come on out to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, here at the Castro Theatre! To view the festival's film schedule, purchase tickets and passes, location of hotels to stay at during the festival, please visit their official website at www.silentfilm.org.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!