A Day of Silents 2017 - The San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Marquee!  (Photo by Christy Pascoe)

2017 ended with a really stellar day at the famed Castro Theater for the Day of Silents.  For a short one day festival, the 2017 edition was a really strong lineup, in my ever so humble opinion.  The San Francisco Silent Film Festival continues to curate the films from around the globe and this one day fest was no exception.

The day began with the German masterpiece by Lotte Reiniger The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).  The astounding film is a stop motion animated feature using paper cut outs.  It is as engrossing as it is magical.  It is a film I really adore and this screening was made all the more magical by the wonderful accompaniment of Dr. Phil Carli.  The audience, while not a sell out, was large and attentive for the first film of the day.  There were many children in the audience (start them young, say I) and it seems they were entranced, as am I every time I see this film.  It is a treat to see on the big screen, so do not miss it if you get the chance.  If not, you can order it on DVD from our friends at Milestone Films.

Screen capture stolen from the internet.
Next up was the uproarious The Last Man on Earth (1924).  I absolutely loved this film.  It was witty and knee slapping, laff out loud fun.  Loosely based on Mary Shelly's book The Last Man (which I now must read), no doubt accent on the "loosely."  The film opens with a rural scene showing Elmer and Hattie, poor Elmer too shy to express his admiration and love for the girl, she a little haughty and gives no time for him.  Years pass and Elmer now and adult has not changed, he still moons for her and gets the gumption to propose marriage.  She rejects him, not if "he were the last man on earth."  He resolves to be done with women and gets into his handily close by plane and flies off never to return.  10 years pass, it is now 1950 and all men over the age of 14 have died from the "Masculitis" disease.  Women now rule the world, young boys are treated like royalty, and women's fashion is part Revolutionary war, part chorus girl and utterly fantastic.  The President is a cat lady, the Senatoresses rule Capitol Hill, and the gangsters are all on the hunt searching the world for the last man on earth.  Frisco Kate find him, brings him back and auctions him off to the highest bidder (the U.S. Government) and the Senatoress's from California and Virginia fight in an epic boxing match on the Senate floor to see who will be the winner to take him home.  (Spoiler: California wins).  In the meantime, Hattie, having had years to nurse her regrets makes her way to see the match, Elmer and Hattie's eyes meet and they have their happy ending after all.  No idea what happened if the "masculitis" disease was cured.  I hate loose ends!  I cannot find a photo of it, but, I was not the only woman in the audience who thought the cocktail shaker was brilliant.  Phil Carli's rollicking piano playing was just fantastic, the film was a hoot and his accompaniment really shined and helped.

1950 fashion trends as envisioned in 1924
Next up was what is arguably in my top 10 silent films of all time, Tol'Able David (1921).  I have this on DVD but had never seen this on the big screen.  I have been wishing and wishing that SFSFF would screen this.  My wish finally came true and in no way did it disappoint.  The print hailed from MOMA's collection and was very good.  Frederick Hodges played for the film, and his score carried us all along, with a bonus cameo appearance by Rodney Sauer on the harmonica.  This film was filmed not very far from where I worked when I lived in Virginia.  I always had meant to get over to Burke to see how the town looked 90+ years later, but, I never did.  Google Maps tells us all it's pretty well developed and not the rural paradise it once was.  I digress.

Barthlemess is very believable as the young David who is not quite yet a man, just tol'able.  Gladys Hulette is charming as his pining love interest Esther.  Ernest Torrence is positively frightening as Luke.  The climax of the film remains as exciting as it must have been in 1921.  The pacing of the film is just right and Henry King got sensitive portrayals out of most of the cast.  The downside, (Spoiler Alert) is the dog, Rocket, gets killed.  Now Henry King did not have them literally kill the dog, as we saw last summer in the Ukraine/Russian film Two Days. I am still NOT OVER that.  Nonetheless, it was an effective use to show Luke's incredible heartless cruelty.  I was not alone seen wiping tears away as the lights came up. 

I had to bug out after this film so I missed The Rat, Lady Windemere's Fan (I have seen before) and Sex in Chains.  It's the holidays and I had too many things going on.  But, I got my silent film quotient to get me to the next Memorial Day Weekend.

As this festival is social as well as one for movie lovers, it was good to see old friends in attendance like Thomas Gladysz founder and Captain of the Louise Brooks Society.  I picked up his new book on Now We're in the Air.  I also had the chance to meet Fritzi Kramer who writes (often hilariously) and cooks over at her blog MoviesSilently.  It was a lovely day and as far as I could tell, a good time was had by all.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival for 2018 will be held May 30 through June 3rd 2018.  They usually announce the lineup in March and tickets go on sale.  I will be there and hope you can make it too! 


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