San Francisco Silent Film Festival Review - Part 1

I do plan to post some individual and much more detailed reviews of films in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, here is the first part of the overall run down of the 16th Annual festival.

The 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival is now but a memory. I’ve just now recovered from taking an extra day off work to attend the festival. In a continuing tradition, I missed a few movies I should not have missed during the three and a half days.

Opening Night, Thursday, July 14


I saw Upstream at the Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles last year and thought it was a so-so programmer. Initially I had not intended to attend the opener and I’m rather pleased I had a change of heart. The Donald Sosin Ensemble provided a delightful new score for the film which, to me, lifted the ordinariness of the plot to a slightly higher level of comedy. I noticed, as well, some very funny digs at John Barrymore. Do not be misled, great silent arte this isn’t. That said, the film is fun and has a happy ending after a few bumps in the road. It was an enjoyable beginning to the weekend. If you did not know this was directed by John Ford, I do not think you’d be able to tell otherwise.

The trailer for the 2012 screenings of Napoleon was met with rapturous applause, including shouts from yours truly.  Tickets are purchased and I can cardly wait!


I love Sunrise, it is one of my favorite silent film. I am sure this is true for many a silent film fan. Having seen a preview of the new score by Giovanni Spinelli, it was not an experience I was looking forward to. So, I skipped it using the excuse that I had had a hard day at work and wanted to go home and crash. This was true to a degree, but I also am too much of a traditionalist to was a more orthodox score for a film I dearly love. I quizzed a few people the next day and it was 5-1, 5 absolutely hating it (“I sat with my fingers in my ears”) to 1 who thought it was an interesting take (“not a sentimental note”).

Friday, July 15

Amazing Tales from the Archives I

I always enjoy the archive programs and wish that they were longer, the time always flies. The presentations this year were a tad longer and all fascinating. It began with Ken Fox who worked on the restoration of the Douglas Fairbanks Mr. Fix-It. He took us through the journey of how they recreated the titles for the film, down to the accuracy of matching the font (a wonderful font called Pabst, yes, same as Pabst Blue Ribbon beer). Jan-Cristopher Horak of UCLA presented on the puzzle of finding out where a film was originally produced. A biblical film that was distributed in the US via a distributor of spiritual films for screening in churches and no clue on where it was made nor it’s cast or original title. Anthony L’Abbate of Eastman House taught us how to identify film clips via a number of methods. Finally, Melissa Levesque of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences showed some of the clips acquired from Lobster Films that still needed some identification. You can help in that effort by visiting here.

Huckleberry Finn

Director William Desmond Taylor is better remembered for his murder in 1922 (still unsolved) than as a director. Many of his films are lost, happily, his 1920 version of Huckleberry Finn still does exist. The star really was the wonderful and very natural Lewis Sargent as Huck. Not entirely true to the story, but a swift paced and engaging film. Shot on location in Northern California subbing for the mighty Mississippi. Donald Sosin provided lively accompaniment.

I Was Born, But…

I skipped the Ozu’s 1932 film in favor of a leisurely meal with some friends.

The Great White Silence

A friend speculated that there were probably many in the audience who might not have known the unhappy outcome of this film. The beautiful photography was accompanied by an equally magnificent and beautiful score by the Matti Bye Ensemble. The moving vistas, the penguins and the build up to the doubly tragic ending was almost overwhelming. It was a beautifully constructed film and scored sensitively.

Il Fuoco

Sadly, I skipped Il Fuoco. I have an opportunity to view it again and I will report on it in detail once I’ve screened it.

Days 3 and 4 to be continued!


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