Thursday, May 9, 2019

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

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show! 

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