The San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2018
|Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin and director Paul Leni with visitor Erich von Stroheim|
during filming The Man Who Laughs.
Let me preface, every year at the close of the festival, I start typing what I call my cranky post, my "what I want to see at the SFSFF" post. The thing is, I never end up posting it. In my heart I know what a lucky duck I am with a terrific film climate in my home town. It seems ungrateful to post a whiny post. After many years of mental whining, The Silent Film Gods were listening because this year three of my ultimate wishes are granted, 4 if you count Kevin Brownlow is coming to town (swoon). We're getting a western, a Constance Talmadge and a Rex Ingram film! We've got some great accompanists lined up. Some fabulous free programming with archivists. My inner geek is very happy always with the Amazing Tales from the Archives.
The festival starts with Paul Leni's great 1928 silent The Man Who Laughs with Conrad Veidt astounding as the tragic Gwynplaine, the best performance I have seen of Mary Philbin. Olga Baclanova is unforgettable as the Duchesss. Also noteworthy in the cast is Homo the wolf playing Zimbo the dog. If you have not seen this swashbuckling horror classic, you are in for a treat. The score will be performed by the Berlee Silent Film Orchestra. This is a **** do not miss opener.
Thursday, May 31:
The festival begins, as it always does with the truly amazing Amazing Tales From the Archives, a free program that is a great start for the geeks among us (I am unashamedly a geek). This year will have Martin Koerber and Cynthia Walk speaking about the restoration of E.A. Dupont’s The Ancient Law (which screens on Sunday at 2:15 pm). David Pozzi of of L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna Italy is presenting on Kinemacolor, an early and successful color process. Finally we will have Board President Robert Byrne, esteemed Russell Merrit and Elzbieta Wysocka of Filmoteka Narodowa talking about the exciting discovery and restoration of the German The Hound of the Baskervilles (which screens on Saturday at 4:30 pm). Again, this is a free presentation, it’s never dull and always educational. Donald Sosin will accompany, and he is always a treat ***** I never miss it.
|Glass advertising slide for Soft Shoes|
Soft Shoes starring western star Harry Carey (an idol of cinematic icon John Wayne) set in San Francisco (I love "home town" movies) where Sheriff Halahan (Carey) comes to Fog City to collect an inheritance and ends up saving a girl from a life of crime and impersonates a ganster. This is a western star starring in not a western. The film is preceded by a Stan Laurel short from 1921 called Detained. Not to be missed!
Carl Dreyer’s terrific comedy Master of the House is next on the lineup. Having learned a few years back never to judge a filmmaker based on one less than happy experience. Because if so, you might miss a film that ends up being a super sleeper hit surprise (The Parson’s Widow). Ergo, this is another not to be missed film for me. With accompaniment by San Francisco favorite Stephen Horne, again this is a treat.
|An Inn in Tokyo|
I am a HUGE fan of the films of Yasujiro Ozu. The treat to see them on the big screen is always a welcome one for me. An Inn in Tokyo, which I have seen before is a marvelous film. I am so looking forward to seeing it on the big screen for the first time. Accompanied with the dynamic team of Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius, the score is going to be great, too.
|People on Sunday|
People on Sunday is filled with major names who gained their real fame later on in Hollywood, directors Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer and Billy Wilder found their inspiration on the streets of Berlin before the rise of the Nazi Regime. The film will be accompanied by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
|The Lighthouse Keepers|
Thursday ends with The Lighthouse Keepers. Another film I am completely unfamiliar with. It looks like it will be a real evening capper. Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius return to accompany the film.
|Constance Talmadge in Good References|
Friday, June 1:
Good References will be a delightful romp starring the effervescent Constance Talmadge as a hoydenish girl hunting for work. Trouble is, she has no references. Things have nowhere to go but down, or up? Donald Sosin accompanies. I adore “Dutch” Talmadge and this is going to be a great way to start the day.
|Alice Calhoun in Another Woman's Story|
The Other Woman’s Story starring Alice Calhoun is another box that is ticked for me as a must see. I love crime/courtroom dramas and they are always a lot of fun in silent films. A winner that will be accompanied by Stephen Horne.
Is a program devoted to Silent Avant Garde films. This will be films featured in the Unseen Cinema collection and accompanied by the Matti Bye Ensemble, SFSFF regulars.
Rosita is going to be one of the hot tickets for the festival. Mary Pickford stars as a Spanish street singer who crosses paths with the King of Spain. I saw this film decades ago from a beat up 16mm dupe and pretty much liked it. Legend is that Pickford hated it and destroyed the film, not true. This film has had a loving restoration by The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the snippets I have been treated to are incredibly gorgeous. Pickford was a savvy producer/star, the pioneer of the industry and she put a lot into the film personally and budgetary. It shows, this is lavish and is going to be fabulous to see it as it was always meant to be seen. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra will provide the score. ***** stars to not be missed.
|Mother Krause's Journey to Happiness|
Germany’s Mother Krause’s Journey to Happiness is another Weimar silent we are treated to. Again, I will be going in to this blind. This film will be accompanied by Sascha Jacobsen and the Musical Art Quintet.
Friday night closes with a Japanese rarity directed by Tomu Uchida entitled Policemen. I confess, my education in Japanese cinema is woefully incomplete. I have not seen any of Uchida’s work. This must be remedied! Stephen Horne and Franck Bockius will provide multiple instrument accompaniment, to be sure.
Saturday June 2:
We start the day with a silent genre that has been unjustly neglected in the 2+ decades of this festival, that of the silent western. While, I am not always a fan of them, they were a huge part of the bill in the silent era with literally a dozen stars of the genre (even more once talkies came to stay for good).
No Man’s Gold is a late Tom Mix silent western. I am really happy to be able to see this, or any silent western at this festival. This has long been one of my silent gripes, Westerns were HUGE in the silent era and have been woefully under represented. I’m still wishing for an Art Acord, William S. Hart and a Fred Thompson (tho the survival rate on Thompson’s films are terrible). I will kvetch not at all for a chance to see a vintage Tom Mix and Tony the Wonder Horse.
Mare Nostrum is a film I have seen and have wanted to love. It is a film that I have only seen in damaged prints which is a large part of the problem. This is being presented by my hero Kevin Brownlow. This is, I believe, Kevin’s print of the film. It’s tinted, so you know it’s going to look fabulous, all the work of the legendary John Seitz (cinematographer for Sunset Blvd. and another you might have heard of the 1921 epic The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse). ***** Not to be missed
|Leda Gys in Trappola|
Trappola will be a totally new discovery for me starring Italian diva Leda Gys. This is a film, which apparently was a universal theme in the silent era, that of an orphaned girl going on to become a movie star. This predates Colleen Moore’s Ella Cinders by four years. I am really looking forward to seeing this light comedy.
There are several really important restorations or new discoveries having a premiere at this year’s festival, the 1929 long thought lost German version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles (Der Hund von Baskerville) is guaranteed to bring out the Baker Street Irregulars. This version is the last silent production of a Holmes story. I love this tale, having read it and enjoyed in every version I have come across. ***** Not to be missed.
|The Divine Garbo|
Next the final film of the day and another important restoration, the feature that brought Greta Garbo to fame and soon Hollywood, Gösta Berling Saga (The Saga of Gösta Berling). Also starring one of my all time silent crushes, Lars Hanson (he himself soon to find himself in Hollywood). May I make a confession here, I have never seen this film. Terrible, isn’t it? Well, I think I waited until the perfect moment to see it. *****
|Serge Bromberg in his happy place|
Sunday, June 3:
Sunday will get off to a rollicking start with the effervescent, Gaelic wonder Serge Bromberg. Serge Bromberg Presents will feature some short silent films from George Melies and the Lumiere Freres and a surprise or two. All I can say is, get up early and get thee to the Castro to see Serge. His knowledge is encyclopedic, his love of silent film is infectious and you will be 1000% entertained and ready for the last day of the festival.
|Seeta Devi in A Throw of Dice|
A Throw of Dice is a fabulous film, shot entirely in India. I have this on DVD and cannot recommend it more highly. Supported by Frank Bockius and Guenter Buchwald, we will all be in for an exotic treat.
The Ancient Law (Das Alte Gesetz) is another highly anticipated film. Similar the tale of the son of a Rabbi who leaves to become an actor. The pieces I have seen of this film look utterly fabulous and this is one not to be missed.
The Fragment of an Empire (Oblomok Imperii) is another soviet film I have no knowledge of. A shell-shocked soldier returns to (now) Soviet Russia ten years after WWI. This one will be interesting, to be sure.
The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival closes with the timeless and wonderful Buster Keaton in his 1926 feature Battling Butler. Now, I have seen this numerous time, I won’t spoil it for you. Just saying Buster and Snitz Edwards, I am there!!