Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Loves of Pharaoh - San Francisco Silent Film Festival

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Image Courtesy: Starts Thursday!

San Francisco Silent Film Festival will present the epic silent film The Loves of Pharaoh during the 17th Annual Silent Film Festival on Friday July 13th.  Buy your tickets here.

Recently restored to nearly complete length, the film is a massive achievement in the line of other silent epics such as Cabiria and Intolerance.  Directed by the soon to be legendary in the U.S. Ernst Lubistch this film is all drama and exhibits none of the famed "Lubitsch Touch."  The Loves of Pharaoh moves along at a leisurely pace and then the excitement builds for a wow finish.

The Loves of Pharaoh was the film that brought both Lubitsch and Emil Jannings to Hollywood.  Lubitsch came to Hollywood to direct Mary Pickford in RositaRosita was a film that Mary Pickford never had a good word about.  It's been far too many years since I've seen it to comment with any pretense of authority. 

Mary Pickford, Charles Rosher (behind the cmaera) and Ernst Lubitsch on the set of Rosita

Jannings is probably best remembered for his role in Der Blaue Engel opposite Marlene Dietrich in her breakout film.  He had a long and varied career in Germany and worked with Murnau in the 1926 film Faust and earned an Academy Award for 1928's The Patriot which was also helmed by Ernst Lubitsch.  All that remains of of the film is this tantalizing trailer.



In The Loves of Pharaoh, Jannings is a very nasty Pharaoh with little to recommend him.  He's brutal and imperious.  Then, Pharaohs were not noted for being particularly humble or compassionate, were they?

Image Courtesy: San Francisco Silent Film Festival



Paul Wegener mugs as the Ethiopian King Samlak.  I'm afraid this is the fault of my still completely associating him in his role as Der Golum (not to be confused with Andy Serkis)  and in Rex Ingram's 1926 film The MagicianKing Samlak brings gifts for the Pharaoh including his daughter Makeda (Lyda Salmonova who was married to Wegener). Unfortunately, the Pharaoh becomes instantly smitten with slave girl Theonis.  


Image Courtesy: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Dagny Servaes plays the slave Theonis who becomes Queen.  She has a patrician quality and underplays.  There is a tenderness to her that makes me want to see her in another film. 

The real star of the film for me was the costuming and the massive sets and Lubitsch's quality of direction.  The crowd sequences were excellently handled and the sets were incredibly impressive.  This positively puts Paramount's 1923 production of The Ten Commandments to shame.  In many ways I feel that Lubitsch outdid Cecil B. De Mille.  It was epic!


 
Image Courtesy: San Francisco Silent Film Festival


I cannot fault the film for having a slightly hackneyed plot.  Like so many other contemporary and later epics, it's the majesty and sweep that propels the viewer forward.  With excellent cinematography, costuming and incredible sets, this film will not be a waste of time.  I enjoyed it. 

What I do need to mention is the restoration of the film, it's absolutely stunningly gorgeous.  Missing some footage with the missing bits completed using stills and title cards.  You do not miss anything germaine to the plot.  The quality of the print looks like it was filmed yesterday.  It is jaw droppingly gorgeous to look at.  A rich depth of focus, a few nice traveling shots and wonderful crowd sequences make this a fun afternoon at the movies.

Do not miss it! 

An excellent piece with more history of the film can be found here by Jan-Christopher Horak, Director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.  Lokke Heiss writes a column for Silent Era when he attends and recaps the annual Pordenone Silent Film Festival.  His reports are always an entertaining read an in this linked article he discusses The Loves of Pharaoh after it's debut in the 2006 festival.

The film has been relased on DVD and Blu-Ray by Alpha-Omega and can be purchased here.

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