San Francisco Silent Film Festival - Recapping the Festival Part II

Jean Forest in Gribiche
My recap of the 2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival continues from Part I posted yesterday
Saturday began with another interesting presentation and an opportunity for a bit of geekatude.  I got to meet and spend a few minutes with John Canemaker.  Icing on the cake, my friends, really grand.

John Canemaker talking about Little Nemo in Slumberland

The morning began with Winsor McCay His Life and Art presented by Academy Award© winner John Canemaker who also penned the fabulous biography Winsor McCay: His Life andArt.  Canemaker spoke eloquently about McCay and his magical world of Little Nemo in Slumberland.   We were treated to some really stunning images from his book, and four of McCay's films: Little Nemo (1911), with splendidly hand colored frames, done by McCay himself.  Nemo was followed by How a Mosquito Operates (1912), that made me itch just watching it.  Then we had a recreation of the vaudeville act of McCay which brought us the magical Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).  Finally, we had what Canemaker described as McCay’s masterpiece, The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), this was an incredible recreation of that sad night, complete with the horror of seeing bodies dropping from the wreckage.  A sight not soon to be forgotten.  McCay was a great draftsman and Canemaker an eloquent spokesman for this man’s wonderful art. 
The 1911 film Little Nemo in Slumberland, hand-colored by McCay himself.

After the presentation I got some real grief from a fellow patron for taking the photos I’ve posted here.  I was trying to be discreet, I was on the aisle and leaning down to take a few shots from as close to ground level as I could manage.  Oy!  Did I get some bad attitude, poor guy, he stewed for the rest of the lengthy presentation about it and waited for me to exit before giving me a tongue lashing in the lobby.  No wonder he did not enjoy himself.  This does not make what I did right, I appreciate I disturbed his peace, and I did apologize but he was having none of it.  He needed to spout off and how funny it did not disturb him the day before. 

A rare glimpse of "Doug" in The Half-Breed

I have a personal interest in the restoration of The Half-Breed since I know someone directly involved in this particular project.  The film was restored as I said yesterday by Board President Rob Byrne (check his wonderful blog here, btw) from four sources.  It took much digging, research and sifting to get the continuity as correct as he thought it could be.  As close to the 1916 original.  Again, his presentation the day before was abundantly illustrative of the process.  We were treated by the accompaniment of Günter Buchwald on the Mighty Wurlitzer (about time, I love me some big thundering Mighty Wurlitzer). Buchwald was fabulous, too!

This 1916 film is pre-swashbuckler Fairbanks and very different for many reasons.  It is also one of Fairbanks few flops, a smart man, Fairbanks never repeated the error.  Directed by Allan Dwan and co-starring Alma Rubens and Jewel Carmen with a cameo by the soon to be famous first Tarzan on film, Elmo Lincoln.  Fairbanks is far more subdued than he normally was, portraying an almost sombre character with stoicism and crossed arms.  Only rarely do you see the “Doug” the fans loved.  Stunting, running, jumping and that infectious grin were mostly absent.  All this being said, it was an interesting film, there was some gorgeous location shooting and the story was based on Bret Harte.  I enjoyed seeing a young Alma Rubens in the cast, she was quite pretty and very expressive, too.  I can see why this film failed at the time of original release, it has everything to do with the Fairbanks personality and pattern was already firmly established and a non-smiling, non-insouciant Doug is just no fun! 

A large group of us broke for lunch and I missed Legong: Dance of the Virgins.  I came back to the theater to catch the very end.  I crept up to the balcony, and did not want to disturb the people standing, missing the screened image I heard the music and it was fabulous.  The round of applause at the end was pretty enthusiastic.


I was planted in my seat for Gribiche ready for the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and the touch of director Jacques Feyder.  What surprised me totally was the cast, Jean Forest (Gribiche) was the standout, of course.  Such a sensitive, expressive face, a beautific smile and such a twinkle in his eyes.  Françoise Rosay (Mrs. Jacques Feyder) played the rich American that adopts Gribiche assured she can give the boy all he needs to go on to a successful life.  Cécile Guyon played his mother, who also had a very expressive face. 

To say the film was a charmer was evident when the bathroom design got a prominent note in the title cards.  Once we saw it, well, it is no wonder they got a plug!  Forest was delightful as the young boy trying his best to adapt to a life he is not quite prepared for and out of place.  The scene where he makes the noble decision to leave his widowed mother because he feels she will be better off without him at home, heartbreaking.  It was, perhaps, a hair overlong and could have used a trimming, but the film was lovely and good fun.  This film and others from Albatros Films have been released on DVD and I encourage you to seek them out. 
Again, a dinner break went long and I missed The House on Trubnaya Square.  Truly a bummer.  I’m going to have an opportunity to see thefilm on DVD and will look forward to that.  The program notes and press from the Silent Film Festival herald it as “Our vote for Best Soviet Silent Comedy ever.”  Big statement, but I so loved A Kiss From Mary Pickford some years back, I know I will likely love this. 

Having seen The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse) with Garbo a couple of times, I felt I could give this a miss.  I regretted missing the Matti Bye Ensemble, but, one does have to make choices. 

Sunday was might light day, I passed on Kings of (Silent) Comedy as I’ve seen all the films and really wanted to sleep in. 

The Outlaw and His Wife (Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru) also got passed because I was being interviewed by the estimable Frank Thompson for his podcast The Commentary Track.  Now I’m nervous about it!  Let me also plug Frank’s excellent documentary on The Lost Remake of Beau Geste.  It’s a fabulous story and a fun movie
Billy Bakewell in The Last Edition
All of San Francisco, it would appear has been waiting for the screening of The Last Edition.  I was among them, hometown pride and the anticipation of seeing San Francisco circa 1925 and recognizing the sights.  Directed by local boy Emory Johnson the film starred Ralph Lewis, as the biggest name in the cast (he started with D.W. Griffith at Biograph)

Shot in and around the Chronicle building, the film had some thrilling chases throughout San Francisco.  It’s not a great film by any means, but worth seeing.  Great to see our city on display and I loved picking out locations I recognized.  An unfortunate reel was spooled on backwards.  The film was delayed to seat the 100% sold-out house.  The film started late, the reel kerfuffle delayed things further.

I had already planned to miss The Weavers (Die Weber) and wanted to go to Safety Last to see the restoration.  But with the timing snafu, it did not start until after 9 pm.  Sadly, Cinderella had to take off the glass slippers and head home until next year.

I missed more films than I had planned this summer and while I am tinged with some regret, the films I did see were all terrific.  I’ll make every effort to do the full run next summer.  I love the SFSFF, love what they do and this year it was so great to see the efforts of preservation and restoration on the big screen.  All the volunteers get some nods for crowd control and diplomacy, too.  It’s always a weekend full of good surprises and this year was no different.  I came home a happy camper.


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