Friday, June 17, 2011

San Francisco Silent Film Festival - A Look Forward to Day 3


Laugh-O-Grams from Disney
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
(USA, 60 mins)
Presented in coordination with the Walt Disney Family Museum

Disney author and historian JB Kaufman will introduce a wonderful selection of Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-Grams from 1921–23, which have been recently preserved by The Museum of Modern Art.

In 1915, Disney founded the Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri, inviting some of animation’s future greats, including Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Friz Freleng, and Rudolph Ising, to create fairy tale cartoons. This program features six of these tales: Little Red Riding Hood (aka Grandma Steps Out), Jack the Giant Killer (aka The KO Kid), Puss in Boots (aka The Cat’s Whiskers), Goldie Locks and the Three Bears (aka The Peroxide Kid), The Four Musicians of Bremen, and Newman Laugh-O-Grams. Goldie Locks and Jack the Giant Killer were thought lost for many years, until animation historian Cole Johnson found the titles in MoMA’s collection, misidentified under alternate titles.

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Variations on a Theme: Musicians on the Craft of Composing and Performing for Silent Film
(70 mins)

The Festival Musicians discuss and debate their craft in this lively panel, moderated by Jill Tracy.

Program includes members of Matti Bye Ensemble, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Alloy Orchestra, and Dennis James, Giovanni Spinelli, Stephen Horne, and Donald Sosin


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The Blizzard
Gunnar Hedes Saga
Accompanied By: Matti Bye Ensemble
(Sweden, 1923, 73 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Mauritz Stiller
Cast: Einar Hanson, Mary Johnson, Pauline Brunius, Hugo Björne, Stina Berg

Mauritz Stiller’s free adaptation of Nobel Prize-winner Selma Lagerlöf’s romantic melodrama has been described as ‘second-tier’ among the silent films, which make up the ‘Golden Age’ of Swedish cinema (1917–1924), partly because of its incomplete status, with some 680 meters missing from the original. Whilst the lost pictures cannot be retrieved, the Swedish Film Institute has effected a restoration of the film, authentically color-tinted, with all its intertitles reassembled, even for scenes, which no longer exist. The result is a perfectly coherent narrative, with what Jon Wengström of the SFI calls the ‘juicy stuff’ (such as a spectacular reindeer sequence) still intact, revealing what might be the most intensely beautiful, intriguing and ambitious of Stiller’s ‘saga’ films, impeccably composed and designed, and blessed with Julius Jaenzon’s stunning photography, which includes hallucinatory special effects on a par with Victor Sjöström’s THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE. The story tells of a dreamy young man (the exceptionally handsome Einar Hanson) who, groomed to take over the family business, rejects his duty, is injured and becomes deluded, and is nursed back to health and sanity by love and music. Without doubt, a ‘first-tier’ film. —Clyde Jeavons, BFI London Film Festival

Print courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute

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The Goose Woman
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
(USA, 1925, 80 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Clarence Brown
Cast: Louise Dresser, Jack Pickford, Constance Bennett, Marc McDermott

Based on the short story by Rex Beach, the plot of THE GOOSE WOMAN would have resonated with audiences of the mid-1920s by dramatizing a key component of the notorious 1922 Hall-Mills murder case—namely, a witness nicknamed “the Pig Woman” who gave unreliable testimony during the investigation in an attempt to solicit media attention.

Directed by Clarence Brown, the movie depicts the tale of Mary Holmes, a former prima donna who tragically lost her singing voice while giving birth to an illegitimate son, Gerald. Unable to move beyond this moment of great misfortune, she has descended into a life of crushing poverty and alcoholism, and bitterly blames her only child for the loss of her true love: celebrity. When a murder is committed next door to her derelict ranch, Mary hatches a plan to generate publicity for herself in the local press, unintentionally snaring Gerald as the prime suspect in the case. Fatefully, she is confronted with a decision that will determine her son’s destiny—and ultimately, her own.

Brown’s signature use of symbolism is clearly evident throughout the film (most notably in an early scene where Gerald accidentally breaks his mother’s only recording of her famed singing voice) and displays a deft hand guiding the moments of comedy that periodically relieve the story’s dramatic tension. Jack Pickford plays the role of Gerald with a reserved and nuanced performance, while Constance Bennett is impressive as Gerald’s fiancée Hazel, displaying some early signs of the innate screen charisma that would make her a star in the 1930s. But it is Louise Dresser who commands the picture with her portrayal of Mary and her astonishing transformation from disheveled harridan into a woman redeemed by the power of love.

Ultimately, critics and audiences alike favorably received the film, and Brown would again team with Dresser in his next film (the Rudolph Valentino hit THE EAGLE) before achieving greater fame at MGM directing the likes of Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. THE GOOSE WOMAN would be remade in 1933 as THE PAST OF MARY HOLMES featuring Helen McKellar and Jean Arthur. —Steven K. Hill, UCLA Film and Television Archive

Print courtesy of UCLA Film And Television Archive

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Mr. Fix-It
Accompanied By: Dennis James
(USA, 1918, 65 mins, 35mm)
PREMIERE of this restoration!
Directed By: Allan Dwan
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Wanda Hawley, Marjorie Daw, Frank Campeau, Leslie Stuart

This sparkling 1918 romantic comedy from director Allan Dwan catches Douglas Fairbanks on the cusp of superstardom. Fairbanks stars as Remington, aka Mr. Fix-It, a happy-go-lucky American at Oxford whose school chum, Reginald Burroughs (Leslie Stuart), has been called back to the States by his starchy, upper-crust aunts (Ida Waterman, Alice Smith, Mrs. H.R. Hanckock) and uncle (Frank Campeau) whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years. Reginald knows his snobbish family will never approve of his English fiancée (Marjorie Daw), so Remington offers to go in his place, impersonating Reginald long enough to (hopefully) change everyone's minds. “Reginald” arrives in America to find his aunts have arranged for his marriage to an unhappy debutante (Margaret Landis), but he soon finds a true love of his own when meets Mary (Wanda Hawley), a poor orphan who has been left to care for her much younger brothers and sisters. As the irrepressible MR. FIX-IT sets about playing matchmaker while untangling numerous romantic complications, what begins as a genteel comedy-of-manners culminates in a fast-paced chase across tenement rooftops and down through the city streets, showcasing just the kind of physical derring-do that would soon make Fairbanks the biggest male movie star in the world.

George Eastman House’s preservation of MR. FIX-IT began in the early 2000s using the only known copy of the film in existence: a fully tinted nitrate print that had arrived at Eastman House as part of the Roberto Palme Collection. From this rare element a duplicate negative and color positive print of the film were made, but like many U.S. silent films exported for international distribution, the original English language intertitles had been replaced with a foreign language translation. Thanks to generous funding provided by William and Nancy Goessel, the Goessel Family Foundation and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, all 160 titles have now been painstakingly restored to English and printed using the original typeface and design. After remaining virtually unseen for decades, MR. FIX-IT is once again ready for the big screen. —Ken Fox, George Eastman House

Print courtesy of George Eastman House

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The Woman Men Yearn For

Accompanied By: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
(Germany, 1929, 85 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Kurt Bernhardt
Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Kortner, Frida Richard, Oskar Sima

Several years before Joseph Von Sternberg swathed her in leathers and feathers for his dances of passion and power in SHANGHAI EXPRESS and THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, and mere months before donning the silk panties and top hat of THE BLUE ANGEL, Dietrich [in THE WOMAN MEN YEARN FOR] gave a performance that looks completely recognizable in terms of her later films. Without question, her charisma is in full flower, suggesting that she brought rather more to Sternberg than is usually acknowledged. Dietrich works her trademark stillness, economy and intensity, with all the centrality of a star, and from her striking entrance, she is photographed like a star, yet Bernhardt’s silent film was forgotten in the rush to talkies and the excitement of THE BLUE ANGEL, and Marlene herself was content to forget it.

A rhapsodic whirl of infatuation, the triangle plot ostensibly takes place in France, but it conveys a dreamlike feeling of its characters drifting together by chance. As Henry Leblanc, a young industrialist pressured into a strategic marriage with the daughter of a wealthy tycoon, the only way to stave off bankruptcy of his family's steel business, the tall, lanky Uno Henning combines strength with an appealing vulnerability. This Swedish actor has an air of boyishness, underscored by an early scene depicting him as a mama's boy, implying that in some sense he is not completed as a man, as virginal as his bride, the better to show him being blindsided by eros.

Boarding the train that will take the couple on their honeymoon to the Riviera, Henry suddenly sees a window shade lifted, revealing Dietrich gazing at him with a look that changes both their lives. Like twin searchlights crossing in the night sky, they lock eyes, unable to break their charged look, and unable to move or speak. This is not a seduction, yet the love-with-a-stranger tension between them seems as intimate as the sex act itself. It also provides the key to convince us that he would renounce all his obligations, deserting his bride on their very wedding night. Finally her male companion enters the frame, breaking the spell as he pulls down the shade. Who is she? Who is the man who accompanies her? What is this couple’s dynamic? As her suspicious companion Karoff, the monocled Fritz Kortner acts both possessive and possessed... —Excerpted from a piece by Robert Keser in Bright Lights Film Journal

Print courtesy of Murnau-Stiftung

 
Individual tickets and festival passes may be purchased online at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

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