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

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show! 

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