The San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2017 Recap Part 1

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is now just a memory.  But, what a memory!  Saw some really terrific films and programs.  Had to miss a few films, as well, one does need to sleep to keep the mind clear. 

The festival was dedicated to the memory of the late and great, David Shepard.  In each of the slide shows were photos and remembrances of David from his colleagues and friends.  It made for a wistful side to the festival.  More on wistful and tearful later.  The festival itself, was jam-packed, per usual.
One of the many slides in tribute to David Shepard

Opening night was Harold Lloyd's action packed college film The Freshman. The live musical score was performed by The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra.  After having tried to cram 5 days worth of work into a 3-day workweek, I am afraid I was too wiped out to make the opening night festivities.  It's not like I had not seen The Freshman before on the big screen.  It was a regrettable miss, but, not too much.  I was saving myself for the next day(s).

Friday June 2:

The first full day of the festival opening with arguably my all-time favorite session of the festival, Amazing Tales from the Archives.  The 2017 edition did not disappoint.  In fact, it easily surpassed every Amazing Tales session that I can recall attending.  It was very high on information and each of the presenters was nearly as entertaining as their subjects and the clips/films shown.

First on stage was Geo. Willeman, nitrate archivist at the Library of Congress David Packard Campus in Culpepper, VA who has worked to sync cylinders from Edison National Historical Park with eight films from LOC’s collection of Edison Kinetophones from 1912–13.  The history of the Kinetophone was entertaining, the two films Geo. showed us were just fantastic. 

A window card advertising Edison talking pictures
We were treated to The Musical Blacksmiths and Jack's Joke.  The clarity of the sound was one thing, the clarity of the film image was utterly amazing, both looked as if they were shot yesterday. 

Arthur Housman and Edward Boulden in JACK’S JOKE (1913)

Jack's Joke featured a well known actor to the real cinephile, a young and dapper Arthur Housman, better known in what seem to be hundreds of films playing an amiable drunk (including a few Laurel and Hardy films) and as The Obtrusive Gentleman in SunriseThe Musical Blacksmiths was a terrific film showing the five member Edison Quintet.  According to Geo. they were a favorite appearing in (I think) nine Kinetophones.  Sadly, neither example is on YouTube, but, you can see the "intro" that Geo. began his presentation with W.E. Ramsay speaking. Note that this example is nothing like the gorgeous clarity of what was screened.

As an early advert stated breathlessly, “So Amazingly Perfect They Are Really Weird.” They are and utterly wonderful, I want to see more of them, really I do.

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi from EYE Filmmuseum, whose presentation revealed the wonders of EYE’s UNESCO-inscribed Jean Desmet collection via the life of Jean Desmet himself.  It is remarkable that the collection encompassing nearly 1000 films and thousands of his business documents were not only saved, the collection was donated by the family.  Desmet began his career a traveling showman (with a ridiculously posh Art Nouveau caravan that I maddeningly cannot find a photo of to share) to his evolving career from a traveling to a permanent cinema operation and film distribution.  Elif showed a snippet of a film I really want to see complete, Tragedy at the Movie Theater (I think that is the title).  Suffice to say, a hilarious film about a man who suspects his wife of adultery and we saw part of the punchline.  It appears NOT to be part of the Desmet YouTube channel, sadly. Happily, my pal Greta de Groat who runs the wonderful website Unsung Divas of the Silent Screen, found it for me.  Watch it here

As mentioned above, EYE has a YouTube channel with  235 films from the Desmet collection that is a deep dive into a vortex of early cinematic mysteries and one of joy.  Here is an introduction to whet your appetite, as this program so skillfully and entertainingly presented has whetted mine.  If you want to read more, I've just ordered the highly recommended volume by Ivo Blom Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade, you can find it cheaply on amazon.

Heather Linville from the Academy Film Archive gave a lively and entertaining presentation on a name previously unknown to me, Aloha Wanderwell.  Come on, this is a wonderful name for an adventurer and filmmaker!  

From her website bio:

Born in Canada as Idris Hall, Aloha was drawn to adventure and the thrill of traveling across uncharted roads in faraway lands very early in life. In 1922, with her mother’s permission, the precocious 14-year-old left school in the south of France to answer a newspaper ad seeking a secretary for a round-the-world expedition. She joined the Work Around the World Educational Club (WAWEC), created by self-proclaimed “Captain” Walter Wanderwell in 1919, which served to promote the newly formed League of Nations. Idris Hall took the stage name Aloha Wanderwell and become known as “the world’s most traveled girl.”

Heather showed some film clips the Academy Film Archive has preserved and described the hope that an approximate recreation of the 1920's-30's presentation of Around the World with Car and Camera utilizing audio of Aloha from the late 1980's can be completed.  Heather told us up until a few years ago, no known narration was on anyone's radar.  I hope that the Academy Film Archive can put this together and take it on the road. 

Aloha Wanderwell and one of the many trusty
Ford Model-Ts used in their travels.

Among the clips we were treated to, Aloha visited Hollywood and, of course, met The King and Queen of Hollywood, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.  Footage was also shown of Aloha visiting First National and clowning with Louise Fazenda.  We also were shown an extended clip of their travels in China, Aloha was a game girl!  Believe me, after seeing the travels of this not quite motley crew, you will never complain about the potholes on the 101 freeway ever again.

I was positively gobsmacked, could not believe I had never heard her story.  While her film collection is spread out a bit, the archives are working together to preserve them.  You can learn more about the fascinating adventurer Aloha Wanderwell by visiting her official website, follow on twitter, and read her book which is available on kindle, too!

This archive program was really the best I can remember. 

Part 2 of my recap will come soon.  I cannot quite believe part 1 is all about the Archive program; I told you it was my favorite!


Tinky said…
I always love these recaps; thanks for sharing what you saw and heard. I'm thinking I should perhaps adopt Aloha Wanderwell for my own stage name; I LOVE it!

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