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

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

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