Recapping the 2018 San Francisco Silent Film Festival - Part 3

The Castro Theater our home for 5 days of silent film

Bet you thought I'd forgotten about my last recap?  Nope, life got in the way!  Here goes!

Saturday June 2:
10:00 am
No Man’s Gold (1926) is a late silent Tom Mix western/action adventure. Part western, part adventure, part rodeo show, this film had a little bit of everything. We started with Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius teaching the audience Dona’s specially composed them song for the movie, No Man’s Gold. The refrain is a sticky bit of earworm I have yet to get rid of. Not in a bad way, very catchy tune!  

The film opens with Prospector and son riding back from their secret mine, dreaming of their riches and soon to make a claim. Bad guy Frank Healy is watching from the clifftops and shoots the father, wounding him fatally. Tom Stone (Tom Mix) is across the canyon and he hears a the report but cannot identify from when it came, sees the man fall. Wat Lyman, a tramp having just been kicked off the train he was hitching a ride on comes across the boy and his dying father. The three men try to aid the dying man. Before he dies, the man tears his map into three pieces and makes each a gift of a portion of the map, swearing them to a pact to take care of his son (Matt Moore)  with his fair share of the riches in the mine. None can find the mine without the other two pieces. Each man swears the oath, Healy (Frank Campeau) has no intention of keeping his part of the bargain.

They travel to the nearest town and in an effort to cheer the boy Tom takes him to the local rodeo. There they meet Jane Rogers (Eva Novak) who is entered into one of the local races. Her horse is sabotaged by damaging one of his shoes, Tom graciously loans her his horse Tony for the race. She wins and Tom fights with the bad guys who tried to sabotage her.

Tom tries to leave young Jimmy with Jane Rogers while he and his partners take their maps and try to find the mine. Jimmy, being a part of the gang of beneficiaries sneaks off in the night and follows them. Healy tries to steal the other parts of the map, is caught and much mayhem and danger is afoot as the trails grow higher and narrower. His gang holes up in one of the mine buildings and Tony is enlisted, among other feats, to lower Tom down the canyon on a rope to fight the villains. Jane, also comes riding to the rescue, and soon becomes a damsel in distress. Suffice to say, this is part Indiana Jones part Seven Samurai as Tom almost single-handedly saves the day. It’s hard to believe so much action could take place in a mere 65 minutes.

The print, newly restored from the Czech archive looked pretty good. It was a rousing start to the day, most enjoyable. The previously mentioned Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius played hell-for-leather during the film and a great time was had by all. Much whooping and cheering at the end.

Before the next film, Mare Nostrum, we celebrated the birthday of a man who is a hero to me, Kevin Brownlow.   Without Kevin's work in preserving and presenting silent films, well, I doubt silent film would be as celebrated as the art for it is today.  With his trilogy of books, I consider them to be required reading if you have even a slight interest in film history.  Kevin is to blame for more than one person's interest and affection and obsession with this era (me). It was an honor and a delight to be able to wish him a happy birthday personally and with a standing ovation crowd.  Kevin, ever the humble man, waved us off.

12:00 pm
Mare Nostrum (1926) was Kevin Brownlow’s pick to show on his birthday.  Ever the humble man, he wanted no fuss for his natal day.  He got it anyway (see above) and I brought along a birthday present which he later told me delighted him.  (Swoon)
Mare Nostrum is a slow film, it’s a weird film, filled with lots of Ingram touches.  Kevin Brownlow in his introduction called this film Ingram’s Greed, it was butchered.  The story is slow to get started and then once the preamble is finished, the main plot inches forward.  We see in the prelude a young boy Ulysses entranced by his Grandfathers tales of the sea and of the sea goddess Amphitrite.
The main film set during WWI concerns a Spanish ship captain Ulysses (Antonio Moreno) and his affair with a German spy Freya (Alice Terry) whom he meets while wandering the ruins of Pompeii. Ulysses, besotted, follows Freya from place to place and leaves his wife for her.  His young son Esteban (Alex Nova) travels in search of his father and fails.  Ulysses is later duped into aiding a German U-boat by supplying it with fuel, and it then proceeds to blow up a passenger liner (think sinking of the Lusitania).  On board the ship is his only son, a victim of the direct hit of the torpedo.  Ulysses learn of his son’s fate from a survivor, he is riddled with guilt and vows vengeance.
Freya, hearing of the boy’s death, renounces her alignment with the spy network and is immediately betrayed by them.  Freya tries to reunite with Ulysses and he spurns her.  He catches sight of the German Count and chases him through the streets, inciting a mob to follow him to capture the spy.  Freya is arrested and tried for espionage and is sentenced to be shot.  She bravely faces the firing squad and meets her end.

Ulysses then refits his vessel the Mare Nostrum for battle.  In a twist of fate, his ship is sunk by the same U-boat that sank the ship that killed his son.  He sinks to the ocean floor and meets with his muse Amphitrite, who looks suspiciously like Freya.  They entwine and sink to the lowest depth of the sea in an embrace.

Alice Terry loved this film and felt it gave her the best part in her career and gave her a chance to really act.  It was reportedly Ingram’s favorite as well.  Sadly, I cannot agree with them.  I still prefer Ingram’s 1921 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a much more satisfying film. It, too, is filled with the mystic touches beloved by both Ingram and June Mathis (who did not have any involvement with Mare Nostrum, to be clear). 

I found the film slow and murky in some points. This is likely due to how much the film was cut.  I need to review both Liam O'Leary and Ruth Barton's books on Ingram for more clarity on this.  Alice Terry’s role was not much more than to look like the siren of the sea and entrap the sea captain.  I agree her best sequence was just prior to her execution.  Ingram, and John Seitz sure knew how to frame a shot for complete dramatic power.  Moreno was much more stolid here than he was in the 1923 The Spanish Dancer or in 1927 It.  I know from talking to other attendees, my view on this film were not shared by all.  Some really loved it and were moved by it while others agreed more of less with my feelings.  Not sure if I will confess my feelings about this film to Kevin Brownlow or not. 

It was gorgeous to look at.  This was no surprise given John Seitz masterful cinematography which is always impressive.  Nearly makes this worth seeing the film for this one reason. Stephen Horne and Franck Bockius kept the film moving along with their score which was filled with mysticism and romanticism. 

2:45 pm

This was to be Trappola starring Leda Gys of which I heard so much.  Sadly, due to the book signing in between and my schedule lunch with friends from out of town, I missed it.  I missed hear Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra for this, of which I was so looking forward.  I will catch up with this via the screener copy, but, it will not be the same.

I did manage to catch the short film that preceded Trappola, San Francisco, 1906. This 11 minute short featured recently discovered footage taken in San Francisco just days after the earthquake and fire.  What is remarkable about this footage is you see people, walking along the ruins of Market Street and in other neighborhoods, going about their every day tasks.  Dressed and walking along as if nothing had happened.  You also see areas being blown up, fire breaks and the remnants of building ready to fall.  This is a terrific document and companion to the earlier 1906 taken just before the 1906 Earthquake.

4:30 pm
One of the films I was most excited to see was the long thought lost German version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles (Der Hund von Baskerville).  This brought out a full house of Baker Street Irregulars and the excitement was palpable
This film was, how would you say it, a very German-Expressionist Sherlock Holmes.  The use of chiaroscuro, light and shadow and my jaw dropped with the amazing mobile camera shots.  There was an absolutely breathtaking 360 degree pan and more tracking shots than you can shake a stick at.  The mood, the whole film was just fantastic.  I absolutely loved it! ymmv as a Sherlockian.  It is as I imagine Alfred Hitchcock’s lost silent feature (also made in Germany) The Mountain Eagle would look.  Fantastic.
There was a lot of exposition, meaning it was a little slow to get started.  For a Holmes adventure, there was remarkably little of Holmes himself.  I heard two schools of thought on Carlyle Blackwell as Sherlock Holmes.  Most felt he was a little too genial, he was less terse and smiled far too much.  Then the other side really did not like him.  Me, I thought he was fine.  The Conan Doyle original was truncated by a good bit, after all there was only the briefest 65 minutes to tell the tale.  The basic story was there, the infamous hound was two hounds if you looked closely.  I, for one, am very happy this was found and restored.  I hope it makes it to DVD/blu-ray as did the previous Sherlock discovery William Gillette’s 1916 film Sherlock Holmes.  It is a film I'd like to examine again, if for nothing else, the fluidity of the camera movements.

Dinner interrupted the last film of the day, the newly restored, expanded Gösta Berling’s Saga starring Lars Hanson and Greta Garbo.  I was told it was really good by one of my friends who traveled from a long distance (Lea Stans over at Silentology).  I trust her and take her word for it.  While I would like to have seen the film, it had the double whammy of after dinner, long film and The Matti Bye Ensemble (who lull me into a slumberous state without fail). 

Sunday, June 3:
10:00 am
Sunday, the final day got off to a rollicking start with the effervescent, Gaelic wonder Serge Bromberg. Serge Bromberg presented some inadvertent 3D/stereoscopic films.  He started with the 1939 sound demo film Motor Rhythm (if you have some 3D glasses handy, watch it here, it’s hypnotic and gorgeous, too.  

If you do not have 3D glasses, here is a fuzzy version you can see the 3D effects:

Thanks to Melies sending negatives of his films to the US, using a secondary camera negative, we were gifted with some accidental 3D movies he could not have foreseen, but would have been delighted by.  It was a magical way to start the day; especially with Donald Sosin providing the music.

12:00 pm
A Throw of Dice is not a new film to me.  It was my first time seeing it on the big screen. This made all the difference in the world, to me.  The film seemed so much larger and the story just worked.  I expect a lot of this also had to do with the scoring by Frank Bockius and Guenter Buchwald, it was an exotic treat.  If you get a chance to see this, I highly recommend it!

Ernst Deutsch as Baruch
2:15 pm
I had great hopes for The Ancient Law (Das Alte Gesetz) and I was not at all disappointed.  What a film!  This was the tale of the son of a Rabbi who leaves the shtetl to become an actor against the wishes of his family. He arrives in the big city and becomes a huge success, at what price, however?  His faith is tested, his love is tested (Henny Porten plays the Queen and is her usual marvelous self).  The star of the film, Ernst Deutsch will be familiar to you as the Baron on Carol Reed’s The Third Man.  Of course, the combo of the dim theater which hampers reading of the program notes and my own desire to go into films totally cold, I sat there wondering WHO is this guy???  Then it hit me!  Silly moi!  Happily, this film is available on DVD from Flicker Alley (and yes I bought a copy at the festival).  Do not miss this if you have an opportunity, I found it moving and humorous at times.  It was a beautifully made film and I am so happy it was saved.
This ended my attendance at the 2018 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  I had a fabulous time.

The next big thing will be coming up September 15th with a day of fabulous films all accompanied by The Clubfoot Orchestra (a MARATHON if ever there was one).  Get your passes here!

Sorry about all the funky fonts in this post.  It's a blogger glitch and I have not been able to correct it no matter how many times I've redone this post.  


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