Thursday, April 7, 2016

Restored Louise Brooks Film to Open 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The 21st San Francisco Silent Film Festival will open this year on Thursday evening June 2nd with a restored version of the 1928 film Beggars of Life starring perennial favorite, Louise Brooks, Richard Arlen and a scene stealing Wallace Beery.  Having seen this in a beat-up 16mm, it is my understanding from one who knows, this will be an eye-opener.  It is also sure to be a very hot ticket, so order your festival passes now.  The screening will be followed by the annual opening night party hosted at the McRoskey Mattress Company.

Friday, June 3

The first day of the festival will open with my perennial favorite program, Amazing Tales From the Archives.  This year's presenters will be Georges Mourier who is working with the Cinemathèque Française on a new restoration of Abel Gance’ 1927 masterpiece Napoleon vu par Abel Gance.  As you may well recall, I can never forget, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened the epic film at Oakland's Paramount Theater in 2012.  My recap of that memorable experience is here.  Peter Schade and Emily Wensel of Universal Pictures will be talking about Paul Leni's 1929 film The Last Warning (screening on Saturday, June 4th).  Bryony Dixon of the BFI will be back to present with treasures from the BFI, she's always a delight and I am looking forward to her talk.  SFSFF Board President and Archivist-in-Chief Rob Byrne will be speaking about the restoration of the 1917 film Mothers of Men, filmed almost entirely in Santa Cruz.  I'm not sure at this point if he will talk before the film, or during Amazing Tales. 

Next up will be a delightful film starring tempestuous Pola Negri, A Woman of the World.  In this film, Negri shows how much of a sense of humor she did have about her famed screen image. This is not to be missed!

Great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu is represented with another of his "gangster films" That Night's Wife (Sono Yo No Tsuma).  I adored Dragnet Girl a few years back, so really looking forward to this.

Sheet Music from the film

Of local Bay Area interest is the 1917 film Mothers of Men, a suffragette film starring Dorothy Davenport Reid (Mrs. Wallace Reid) shot almost entirely in Santa Cruz (and Berkeley).  Rob Byrne will also be an entertaining speaker when it comes to chronicling the discovery and restoration of the film.

German actor Emil Jannings makes his return to the festival in E.A. Dupont's fantastic Variete.  Lya de Putti is cast as the young trapeze artiste.  Great camera angles and perspective from the trapeze artist vantage point.  Not for the squeamish in that regard. 

I know absolutely nothing about Behind the Door, this tag line from the Cinefest 33 screening should be considered fair warning, "One of the most gruesome and bizarre of the atrocity films made in the United States between 1917 – 1919." 

Anita Monga declared in her announcement of the film at the press event on April 6th, That Behind the Door would be "the Sleeper Hit" of the festival.  It involves taxidermy, I am already creeped out.  Rob Byrne will be giving a talk and hosting a slide show on the restoration of the film (a project with Moscow Film Archive, the Library of Congress and other unnamed entities) at the Presidio Officer's Club on May 26th. This event is free, but, you need to register.

Saturday, June 4:

Laurel and Hardy's The Battle of the Century has long been half a movie.  The second reel had been missing all my life, until recently, that is.  Local historian, film collector and cracker-jack accompanist Jon Mirsalis located the elusive second reel.  So, who is ready for pie (in the face)?  Also on this bill of fare are two Buster Keaton short, Cops and The Balloonatic.  We will also be treated to the uber creepy 1907 Pathe film The Dancing Pig.  Once seen, it cannot be unseen, you will never view bacon in quite the same fashion.  Jon will also tinkle the ivories for this screening.

We will be treated to Anthony Asquith's directorial debut with the film Shooting Stars.  I adore backstage musicals and movies about movies being made (Footlight Parade, etc.) and this looks promising.  Asquith's A Cottage on Dartmoor, screened some years back and is an absolute favorite of mine.  Maud Nelissen will be accompanying. 

Oscar Micheaux is a familiar name to many who attend the festival.  Within Our Gates is a political hot button of the day by showing the Jim Crow and the resurrection of the ghastly Ku Klux Klan.  A luminous Evelyn Preer stars.  A not to be missed film as this is the earliest complete feature produced by African American, Oscar Micheaux. 

Rene Clair's The Italian Straw Hat is a classic and one I've never seen on the big screen.  This is a new restoration and I am looking forward to Clair's light touch and hilarious comedy.

Director Paul Leni is not a name that may be too familiar to your average Joe.  Another European import (like Lubitsch), his flair for comedy and terror in The Cat and the Canary never ceases to amuse and terrorize me.  The Man Who Laughs is one of the greatest of all silent films.  I am so looking forward to seeing the newly restored The Last Warning starring Laura La Plante.

Sunday June 5:

We will get a treat of hand colored wonders with the program Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema, not to be missed.  The films presented come from the collection of our friends at the EYE Filmmuseum.

Ernst Lubistch's 1918 delight I Don't Want to be a Man was a huge hit as the San Francisco International Film Festival many years ago when I first saw it.  Starring the hilariously funny Ossi Oswalda, this is certain to be another surefire hit for the weekend.  This program is a double feature with a Clyde Cook comedy What's the World Coming To?, a futuristic comedy when men have become more like women, and women more like me.

The grandfather of all "documentary" or "docu-dramady" films, Robert Flherty's 1922 Nanook of the North is a must see for anyone who need to tick films off their bucket list.  While it is not a strict documentary, the family portrayed are appealing and shows us a world nearly gone from the planet. 

Another newly restored film will be Fritz Lang's Destiny (Der Mude Tod).  Will love conquer all, even death?  Lili Dagover stars in this deeply visual travelogue of love over space and time.

To continue with the theme of restoration, Les Deux Timides is a repeat of the Festival from 2008 (like Beggars of Life was in 2007).  I was not blogging back then, but, I do remember enjoying it quite a lot.  Looking forward to a new print.

The 21st Festival weekend will close with a film that promises to send us all home on a light, high note, Douglas Fairbanks 1919 film When the Clouds Roll By.  One of Fairbanks' last straight comedies before becoming firmly entrenched as a swashbuckler (and who among us would complain?).  I love Doug and make no bones about it.  Looking forward to this!

Hope to see some of you there! 

Fairbanks predates the more famous Fred Astaire walking on the ceiling!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Favorite Photo of the Week #11

The latest addition to the home collection, a wonderful vintage Paramount Publicity photo of Charles Laughton taken by William Walling Jr. circa 1932. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Son of the Sheik Music and Tints - The Rudolph Valentino Blogathon

Valentino's final film The Son of the Sheik is 90 years old in 2016.  So much has been written about the film and his passing as soon as the film was going into general release, I thought it might be fun to approach the film and see it through they eyes of a visitor to the theater in 1926.

The first thing you'd see, naturally, would be a line of people outside the theater and the movie posters beckoning you to enter.

1926 first release poster

Since the film did not go into general release until after Valentino passed away in August, United Artists took a risk in releasing the film.  Releasing the film after his death would have been viewed as morbid, or lacking in taste.  United Artists was in a quandary.  The fans, however, made it plain that they wanted to see Valentino and the film was a massive success.

During the silent era, many of the "big" or "prestige" films had a full score composed for the film, films such as Monsieur Beaucaire or Orphans of the Storm had a complete score.  Most films did have music, it came in the form of a "cue sheet."  This left the musicians, or often, the house organist, plenty if wiggle room to noodle their way through the film.  Make no mistake, the artists who played for the films had a huge arsenal of music not only at their fingertips, but, in their heads. 

The Son of the Sheik came with a cue sheet.

The first page of the musical cues

Title Card tinted orange/sepia

The processed film prints rented to the theater owners often were tinted.  The cue sheets not only had hints for the musical cues by the titles, but, also by the color of the scene.  

The cues for the start of the film
Night scenes were tinted purple
Daytime were a cool blue
There were always exceptions to the "rule" as this scene was tinted purple and was not a night scene.

Valentino crushes rose

The matching musical and tinting cue

Right as this scene fades out, the cue sheet shows this sequence tinted green.

The next scenes in the tent went from dark blue

 to red, depending on the action, and mood.

The tinting, toning and the musical selections greatly heighten the experience in watching this film, and, in fact, any silent film.  Sadly, as far as I know, no original release 1926 print of the film is extant.  All prints derive from the 1938 reissue that had an added musical track and sound effects.  Most prints show a fair amount of grain and scratching.  It is a real pity that a first generation print, or camera negative, do not exist.  The Son of the Sheik is a beautifully shot film, the cameraman was the legendary George Barnes.  Barnes started in the early teens and later won his sole Academy Award for Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca.

The Son of the Sheik was directed in stylish and tongue and cheek fashion by George Fitzmaurice.
Valentino had originally hoped his 1922 film Blood and Sand would have been directed by Fitzmaurice, but it was not to be.  During filming, they became fast friends. 

Fitzmaurice schools Valentino in the art of seduction
Valentino did live long enough to witness the success of what ended up being his final film.  He attended screenings in Los Angeles at Sid Grauman's Million Dollar Theater.  He was traveling to promote the film when he fell ill in New York.

Happily for Valentino fans, and silent film fans, The Son of the Sheik still exists and is readily available on DVD.  If Valentino's cinematic legacy suffered same fate as so many of his contemporaries, their total output lost to time, except this one film his reputation as a screen actor and magnetic personality would be there for future generations to witness.

The Rudolph Valentino blogathon is hosted by Michelle at Timeless Hollywood.  I'm very happy to have been invited to participate and am anxious to read the contributions.

Artistry of the Credit Roll #8

The Son of the Sheik
United Artists

The Rudolph Valentino Blogathon is hosted by Michelle at Timeless Hollywood.  I'm very happy to have been invited to participate and am anxious to read the contributions by other bloggers.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Orry Kelly - Women He's Undressed (2015)

I was very excited to see this film about to play at the annual Mostly British Film Festival in San Francisco.  I bought tickets immediately.  I knew about the book that had just been published, Kelly's salacious, gossipy memoirs, hidden or suppressed in his lifetime.  I had such high hopes that this documentary would be a fitting tribute to a designer who really did define the art deco, sleek look of the Warner Brothers films of the 1930s.  Sadly, I came away disappointed.

Scene from Women He's Undressed (2015)
The film's main theme is based on a childhood photo of Kelly dressed in a sailor suit, posing in front of a scrim and in a rowboat.  We see much of the rowboat, named Kiama after Kelly's hometown in New South Wales, Australia, the ocean blowhole "at the end of the street" and signposts in the water as a metaphor of his journey through life, travels across the globe, and, ultimately, his passing.

Orry George Kelly, aged six (1904)
The fantasy adult, snarky, malicious and gossipy Orry Kelly is portrayed by Darren Gilshenan.  He and the other re-enacters form the odd framework for the film, as I am calling it, "docudramedy."  Therein lies the most jarring and unsatisfying heart of the film, punctuating his story with ill-advised, nasty and sloppy dramatic fantasy sequences.  The other aspect, if the source of the film is actually based on Kelly's memoirs, there is precious little about Kelly himself.  He left himself out of his own story.

No doubt, Orry Kelly as a (publicly) closeted gay man, one can assume some of his personal anguish was quenched in his alcoholism.  Only vaguely referenced in the film suddenly when we discover he's ended up in a sanatorium (referred to in the modern turn of phrase, rehab).  But, this all comes later.

For all of the re-enactments, we literally do not see Orry Kelly until the very end of the film, accepting his third Academy Award for Some Like it Hot.  At the final sequence, we see some production stills of Kelly with Kay Francis, Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe.  This was more of what I was hoping to see, a true documentary of an artist and his work.

To be sure, there were plenty of short film clips, spectacularly Mandalay with Kay Francis as Spot White, and Barbara Stanwyck from Baby Face.  A few tantalizing shots of some of his costume designs The focus kept turning back to whether or not Kelly and Archie Leach (Cary Grant) were lovers, and how Grant dumped him and kept entering lavender marriages to cover up (and soon divorces).  According to the film, it was not only Grant who indulged in lavender sham marriages, Adrian, Travis Banton and Randolph Scott, did as well.  I do not know, so can't say one way or another, I guess Orry Kelly between films was keeping score?  That was the message I got.  Well, until Kelly meets his ideal, Bob Roberts, we see a portrait of him, then he disappears never to be mentioned again.

The talking heads were Leonard Maltin, a saucy Jane Fonda (who had fond memories working with and respect for the creator of such amazing clothes), Dame Angela Lansbury, William Mann (Wiscracker: The Life and Times of William Haines), several costume designers such as Ann Roth and Colleen Atwood.  Also interviewed was Scotty Bowers, which, his commentary needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt (boulder sized).  One would hope that the Warner Studio Archives might have been consulted, alas, apparently not.  I do wish they had spoken to Olivia de Havilland, I am sure she could had added to our knowledge of Orry Kelly.

I came away sad as this was not what I was expecting, shame on me for not paying attention.  While I do feel a sense of Orry Kelly not being well served, I am glad I can cross this film off my list.  I hope that another book may come out on Kelly, in tribute to artistry that seems to be classic, still wearable, incredibly stylish, and stunningly creative.  Meanwhile, I will go back and revisit so many much loved films of the 1930's and 40's, because you just can't beat the great designs.

Kay Francis and Orry Kelly early 1930s
Glenda Farrell in Orry Kelly 1933

Joan Blondell in Orry Kelly circa 1933

Costume Design for Kay Francis

Costume Design for Bette Davis

Bette Davis in Orry Kelly Dark Victory 1939

Kay Francis in Mandalay

Ruth Chatterton in Orry Kelly Female