Friday, March 27, 2015

EPIC Films for the 20th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival

It's hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the first San Francisco Silent Film Festival!  Who would have believed the festival could have grown so much and thrived?  Yeah, we all thought so!  Congratulations to the San Francisco Silent film Festival, from the earliest days to the present Board members and staff, it's been a great ride!  This year, looks like a great ride, as well.  Start off by buying your fesitval pass here, do it now.

The program is varied, interesting and has a nice balance of foreign delights as well as some truly fabulous warhorses! 

All Quiet on the Western Front
The program opens with the silent version of Lewis Milestone's incredible All Quiet of the Western Front starring Lew Ayres and Louis Wolheim and Ben Alexander. Rarely seen in the silent version, this is a not to miss opener for the Festival.

We start the weekend proper with another episode of Amazing Tales from the Archive, the festival free program I always enjoy.  The first Friday film will be a Chinese silent film Cave of the Spider Woman from 1927 recently repatriated to China from Norway.  The few stills and frame grabs I've seen look great!

Cave of the Spider Woman

San Francisco Board President Rob Byrne and EYE restored a 1913 Lubin film When the Earth Trembled, set in San Francisco at the time of the great earthquake in 1906.  It should be interesting to see a take on the disaster and tragedy so soon after the actual events.

Italian Poster for When the Earth Trembled
The great German actor Emil Jannings returns to San Francisco (virtually) in one of his great silent films directed by F.W. Murnau, The Last Laugh.

Emil Jannings in The Last Laugh

Another highly anticipated film (for me anyway) will be the 1927 German/UK film The Ghost Train.   Stranded travelers in a haunted train station, I am all about that!

This year we see the return of Harold Lloyd in one of my favorite of his comedies, Speedy. It is speedy so be preapred for a whirlwind!

Those who remember Gribiche from a few years ago will be pleased to see another Jacques Feyder film on the schedule.  This one also starring the remarkable Jean Forest in Visage D'Enfants.  I won't be missing it!  

Frank Capra is represented by not one of his silent films, but a talkie that is missing the soundtrack entitled The Donovan Affair.  I know this will be a crowd pleaser with the live actors and live sound effects, but, it's not a silent film!  Just silent by virtue of a lost track.  Oh well, I'm robbed of hearing Agnes Ayres real voice.  This also reunites Ayres and Jack Holt as they co-starred in Paramount's lost film Don't Call it Love (with Nita Naldi).  I know I will enjoy this, too, just being a curmudgeon at the moment!

Clarence Brown's 1927 Flesh and Devil is the film that started one of the most torrid affairs in Hollywood, at least for the 1920's.  Starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo, you can really see them fall in love on screen and it does smoulder! The film also stars Lars Hanson, who is also fabulous in this film. 

Director Clarence Brown and Greta Garbo pose for a gag shot during the filming of Flesh and the Devil.
Then we are treated to a Norwegian film, Pan, "a story of simple overwhelming attraction."  I do not know anything about this film or anyone in it.  Going on faith here!

Day 4 (Sunday) starts with four shorts by The Amazing Charlie Bowers, presented by Serge Bromberg, I am NOT going to miss this! Serge Bromberg is a great showman himself, so this you get two for the price of one kind of entertainment.

After the amazing comedies of Charley Bowers, we get to relax with Avant Garde Paris, Man Ray and Dimitri Kirsanoff.  I am looking forward to Stephen Horne playing for these in particular.

Colleen Moore, popular in the past in Her Wild Oat also returns for the 20th festival in the recently restored Why Be Good? Should be good! 

Trade Advert for Why Be Good?
Also in the line up is a Swedish comedy Norrtullsligan about female office workers who share a flat and work in a man's world. 

Then comes the most anticipated film of the weekend, William Gillette in the 1916 Sherlock Holmes.  Long thought to be lost, recently and miraculously rediscovered.  Now we can see the man who really brought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes to life.  How I wish Benedict Cumberbatch (pant pant) or Mark Gatiss would be joining us to introduce it, but, I know we will be all the better and happier because the esteemed Russell Merritt will be!

The Swallow and the Titmouse lay dormant for 60+ years, restored and recreated in 1979 this will be a non-missable.

The final day begins  with another free program which will be a silent film quiz "So you think you know silents."  I will play and likely not win anything, but it will be fun!

I've seen Blanche Sweet in only a few films, so The Deadlier Sex (1920) is going to be a real treat.  Looks like a riff on Smoldering Fires (1925) or Female (1936) and the added bonus of a cameo/bit with Boris Karloff early in his career.  I love Boris!

Next to Sherlock Holmes one of the most exciting and significant finds is the Bert Williams 1913 unfinished feature Lime Kiln Field Day.  Preserved and reconstructed this will be a one of a kind opportunity for the geekiest of film geeks.  Bert Williams was a huge star in his day and this formerly lost and forgotten footage is going to be a real eye opener.  I am very much looking forward to this. 

Finally, to close out the festival Kevin Brownlow will be interviewed "in conversation" with Serge Bromberg prior to the screening of Ben-Hur.  The print is Photoplay Productions restoration, so I expect Patrick Stanbury will be on hand as well.  Looking forward to seeing Kevin and also a nearly naked Ramon Novarro if I must be shallow (and I must).  With the restored two color technicolor sequences, this film is simply fabulous on the big screen.  A fitting bang on epic to end a long weekend of fabulous silent films.

Throughout the weekend the fesitval will be screening bits, shorts and newsreels about the PPIE, Panama Pacific International Exposition which is celebrating it's centenary in 2015.  According to Anita Monga, we'll be seeing rare films, many which have not been seen for decades. 

Live musical accompaniment for each film and we will see many familiar faces, Donald Sosin, the Matti Bye Ensemble, the Mont-Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Guenter Buchwald, Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius.

Don't miss the holiday weekend and celebrate the art of the universal language of silent cienma.  True Art Transcends Time!

See you there!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rudolph Valentino Tribute in Song

Rudolph Valentino about to serenade Lila Lee in Blood and Sand

Valentino was not terribly musical as far as we know.  He might have played a bit of piano (though at home his was a player-piano).  He posed with a guitar for Blood and Sand and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  His musical ability might have been confined to his grace as a dancer, for which he left plenty of good evidence on screen.

Valentino's singing voice is hard to judge, the recordings were made prior to the electrical microphone, so he sang into a horn (like fellow Italian Enrico Caruso).  Valentino laughed off his vocal experiment and moved on.

Valentino did enjoy opera an popular tunes.  His big films had special songs and music written to tie in, and there were numerous songs dedicated or inspired by Valentino.  You can hear many of them, including remasterings of the two recordings Valentino made on the CD, Rudolph Valentino Sings and Others Sing About Him.  It's a really fun CD, btw.

In everyone's life there is a special song, a piece of music that moves them.  Something that remains with them.  This may not be one of those songs, but, I really felt compelled to post it here.

I'm do not mean any disrespect here, this is not my meat of choice, shall we say.  I learned of a song today that I never knew existed.  The song was dedicated to the memory of Rudolph Valentino.  Was it written in 1926?  No!  It was much more contemporary, a song written and performed by country/western performer Freddie Hart.  I have not been able to track down a date when he wrote this song.

Composer and performer Freddie Hart

Valentino!  Valentino!

His name will live forever.
To America he came from a far-away land
and was known among women as a man among men.
His name is recorded in Love's Hall of Fame:
Rudolph Valentino was his name.

He had a technique with women unique so they tell,
for girls of all ages fell under his spell.
 Now that made men jealous, the could not compete,
named him "Casanova of the street."

Valentino!  Valentino!
Famous the whole world over.

Valentino!  Valentino!
His name will live forever.

Well he died but a young man not much overgrown.
Stories were told that he didn't die alone.
'Twas said that some women too their lives that day.
Rudolph Valentino passed away!

So loved was this man throughtout all the world,
he was a legend to every boy and girl.
In New York's Big City his service was held,
mourners by the millions cried "Farewell!"

Valentino!  Valentino!
Famous the whole world over.

Valentino!  Valentino!
His name will live forever.

I confess, the lyrics don't thrill or inspire me.  I won't comment further since country music is not my bag.  Likely this was not a chart topper.  But you can judge for yourself by listening to Freddie Hart's recording here.  He got one thing right, over 100 years later and people are still talking about Rudolph Valentino!

Enjoy your Valentino oddity for the day!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rudolph Valentino's Hobbies

Valentino showing off his physique
Rudolph Valentino had many interests besides making the best films he could.  He was a man who was interested in everything!  As fame brought him wealth, he was very much able to indulge his whims and interests.

First off, along with Douglas Fairbanks, Valentino was a notable health addict, long before a buff bod was something that was both fashionable and demanded of our screen idols.  He worked out at home, at the studio and at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.  Valentino even went so far to pen (or a ghostwritten) book on fitness entitled How You Can Keep Fit published by Physical Culture Magazine owned by Bernarr MacFadden (media magnate and health fanatic of the teens and twenties).  
Rudy enjoying a pipe and a book. 
Though he does not look like he is enjoying being photograhed!

Valentino had few vices with regard to his physical health, that one real vice was that he was a chain smoker.  Back in his day it was unfiltered cigarettes.  He liked odd smoking devices and he also enjoyed smoking a pipe.  It is a rare photo of him where he does not have a cigarette in hand.
He prided himself on being in superb shape. 
 With his fame came the ability for him to indulge in collecting all manner of things, swords, books and cars.  He loved cars!  From his earliest days he had a fascination with all things mechanical.  In fact, the legend of one of his first jobs in the U.S. working for Cornelius Bliss as a gardener, he got himself fired by stealing and wreking a motorcycle.  One does wonder if fame had not come his way if he would have ended up as a mechanic in a garage?  He likely would have been just as happy and contented.  

Posing with the new Cobra Car Mascot on his 1923 Avion Voisin
Of course, being a lowly mechanic would not have allowed Valentino to indulge in very expensive cars, like the Voisin and his enormous and expensive Isotta Fraschini. Valentino enjoyed doning a pair of coveralls and taking everything apart down to the chassis.  It was a good day that allowed him to play like this.

Rudy, clearly having a good time.

Valentino was also able to indulge his whims and passion for horses and dogs.  (No evidence of his loving cats except Natacha's pet lioness cub Zela).  Valentino's favorite of his many dogs was likely Kabar.  Many legends have arisen about Kabar, that he haunted Falcon Lair and such.  I suspect the real thing was he loved his master and mourned him.

With his Mastiff and Wolfhoud

Kabar is seen here excitedly barking while Valentino exercises Yacqui and shows off for Nealson Smith's publicity camera.  The stables at Falcon Lair were quite posh, by horse standards and also housed kennels for his numerous dogs.  The stable building is no longer a part of the Falcon Lair property having been parceled off decades ago.  It was converted into a house and is still quite posh, now for humans!

Rudy bringing Centaur Pendragon home in January 1926
Photography was another great passion. From his earliest days, Valentino indulged himself and recorded his travels and adventures by taking photographs.  He had a brownie, or some such camera from his earliest days in America.  Many candid photos of him posing on walks, in NY, and on tour survive.  His own snapshots preserved in his scrapbooks, not always so well composed, do show a flair.  As his personal wealth grew, he was able to invest in much more expensive camera and movie equipment, such as top of the line Debrie cameras from France.  He is using a Debrie to film Natacha below.  He also shot home movies while traveling and even on the sets of his movies.  Nobody was safe!

 Valentino also had the opportunity to travel, a pastime he enjoyed, but, did not get the chance to do all that much.  He stayed in America from 1913 to 1923 when he was finally able to return to his home country and also see Great Britain (where he visited Crabbet Stables to possible purchase his own Arabian horse), France, where he bought cars, Italy to see his family (and to order his Isotta Fraschini).  In 1924 he visited Spain on his summer trip to Europe.  He hobnobbed with the rich and famous, the peerage and royals as often as he could.  He had a love of the finer things in life and being one of the biggest movie stars of the era enabled him to do that.  The rich and famous flocked to him!

Rudy and Natacha waving on board ship

The Valentinos looking tres chic!

During his travels across the U.S. he also took the chance to meet mayors and other local politicians.

Rudy and Fiorello la Guardia at the Columbus Day celebrations in 1922

 Valentino collected books, armor, weapons and other beautiful things he displayed at his home Falcon Lair.  Sadly, so many items were auctioned off and scattered to the four winds to pay his debts after he died at the incredibly young age of 31 in August 1926.  He displayed a love of finery from his earliest days.  How wonderful that because of his hard work and fame he was able to indulge his passions and whims and enjoy a life to the fullest measure, as he did.

This post today is part of the Rudolph Valentino Blogathon.  Be sure to check out the terrific entries here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Rudolph Valentino Blogathon - March 15, 2015

A Rudolph Valentino Blogathon, you say?  Pending the host approval of me doing a contribution, I am so there! 

You can check out the current list of posts here.

If you my fellow bloggers want to contribute, I'd say contact them! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Joys of Kickstarter

I'm a Backer! 

I've backed several projects (film and non film) related via Kickstarter.  From electronic cat toys Get Shru, MiniMuseums, Tower Records Documentary, Bronies! The Musical Soundtrack and Alice Guy-Blance, I am a big fan of crowdfunding.  Not only does it help people do cool and fabulous things, you get cool and fabulous things in return for your kickstarter bucks!

Case in point, Ben Model has done several kickstarters and his latest bringing back to life the artistry of Marcel Perez (yes, I backed it) is just one of the cool things. You can buy the very cool Marcel Perez dvd (including the fabulous book by comedy author and all around good guy know it all, Steve Massa) here at amazon.  Go on, do it now! (How many times can I say cool, btw?)

I HOPE that Ben's next project will allow me to help back the work of the unjustly forgotten and always hilarious Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew.  HOPE HOPE HOPE!

There is another really fabulous project needing funding, KINO/LORBER is producing Pioneers of African American Cinema.  To view the video please visit their kickstarter page.  I'm a backer!  Wouldn't you like to be a backer too?

For any of these worthy crowdfunded projects, it does not take major bucks out of your pocket to help them do wonderful things.  Even $5 is money to do good!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rudolph Valentino and His Films

In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I wanted to formally announce the launch of my next book I am referring to as Rudolph Valentino 2.0.  The working title is the oh-so-exciting The Films of Rudolph Valentino: A Chronological History.  I have no doubt that is likely to change as the publication date gets closer.

This book will be the first examination of Rudolph Valentino's career, his films and his impact during the silent era.  He was one of the most magnetic stars of his time.  Given the present fanbase, I'd sad interest in Valentino has hardly waned with the passage of time!

 If you want to keep on top of the progress, please head on over to Facebook and "like" the page for the book updates.  Hopefully, when the time comes, you will be intrigued enough to want to buy it, too!

I won't be posting much about the process and research here as I want to save this spot for other things, like Alfred Hitchcock and films I am seeing outside of all the Rudolph Valentino research. So, consider this an FYI!

End of Commercial

Monday, January 26, 2015

William Gillette Sherlock Holmes - A First Video Glimpse!

Just linking to the BBC article, video is embedded there and it looks fabulous!

Click Here!

Yes, it looks fabulous and yes I am beyond excited for the May screening!