Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Louise Brooks stars again in Beggars of Life

If you live in or near Los Angeles, don't miss the special, August 1st screening of Beggars of Life at the Cinefamily theater (611 N Fairfax Avenue) in Los Angeles. Cinefamily has arranged to show a rare 35mm archival print of the film from the George Eastman House. If you have only seen this superb 1928 William Wellman-directed film on YouTube, or on the poor quality DVD's floating around the web, then you were likely disappointed by how dark and fuzzy those versions of Beggars of Life look. The George Eastman House print is bright and clear. This is the print to see! To find out more about the August 1st screening of Beggars of Life, starring the one and only Louise Brooks, check out this article on examiner.com




If you need another bit of incentive to attend this special event, then know that the Cinefamily Theater has arranged to obtain an autographed hardback copy of Laura Moriarty's new novel, The Chaperone, to give away as a door prize. Cool! If you happen to attend this special screening, please post a comment or two in the comments field below.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beggars of Life screens August 1st in L.A.

If you live in or around Los Angeles, don't miss a special, August 1st screening of Beggars of Life at the Cinefamily theater, 611 N Fairfax Avenue, in Los Angeles. At this special event, Cinefamily has arranged to show the rare 35mm archival print of the film from the George Eastman House. This is the print to see! If you have only seen this superb 1928 William Wellman directed film on YouTube, or on DVD-R, then you were likely disappointed by how dark and fuzzy those versions of Beggars of Life look. The George Eastman House print is bright and clear. A bit of it can be seen in the video embedded below.


BEGGARS OF LIFE (presented by The Silent Treatment) from Cinefamily on Vimeo.

Cliff Retallick, who plays for the Silent Movie Theatre and Cinefamily, will accompany the film. Cliff also plays for I UCLA and the Hammer Museum's Billy Wilder Theatre as well as the American Cinematheque and both the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and The Egyptian in Hollywood.

If you need another bit of incentive to attend this special event, then know that the Cinefamily Theater has arranged to obtain an autographed hardback copy of Laura Moriarty's new novel, The Chaperone, to give away as a door prize.

To find out more about the August 1st screening of Beggars of Life, starring the one and only Louise Brooks, check out this article on Huffington Post.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cool pic of the day: Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box


Cool pic of the day: Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box
There is something inelegant yet appealing about this screen capture.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The German Bestseller in the Late Nineteenth Century

A just published book, The German Bestseller in the Late Nineteenth Century (Camden House, 2012), contains a reference to the "Louise Brooks edition" of Margarete Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl. The book is a collection of essays on the literature of the time.

One of the essays included in The German Bestseller in the Late Nineteenth Century is titled "Taking Sex to Market." It is by Elizabeth Boa, a UK scholar described as "One of the most respected Germanists of her generation." Boa is a scholar of modern German literature and who has written on Frank Wedekind and Franz Kafka and others.

In the footnotes to her essay, Boa references the "Louise Brooks edition" of  Bohme's bestselling book, Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (translated into English as The Diary of a Lost One, aka The Diary of a Lost Girl). It made my day when Boa described this edition as "splendid." (See below.)


The "Louise Brooks edition" of Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl is also included in the bibliography of this new book, which I am looking forward to getting a hold of.  

More info on "Louise Brooks edition" of The Diary of a Lost Girl can be found here. And here are a few of the other reviews of the book which have appeared since it was published in 2010.

"Long relegated to the shadows, Margarete Böhme's 1905 novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl has at last made a triumphant return. In reissuing the rare 1907 English translation of Böhme's German text, Thomas Gladysz makes an important contribution to film history, literature, and, in as much as Böhme told her tale with much detail and background contemporary to the day, sociology and history. He gives us the original novel, his informative introduction, and many beautiful and rare illustrations. This reissue is long overdue, and in all ways it is a volume of uncommon merit." -- Richard Buller, author of A Beautiful Fairy Tale: The Life of Actress Lois Moran

"Gladysz provides an authoritative series of essays that tell us about the author, the notoriety of her work (which was first published in 1905), and its translation to the screen. Production stills, advertisements, and other ephemera illustrate these introductory chapters. In today’s parlance this would be called a 'movie tie-in edition,' but that seems a rather glib way to describe yet another privately published work that reveals an enormous amount of research — and passion." -- Leonard Maltin

"Read today, it's a fascinating time-trip back to another age, and yet remains compelling. As a bonus, Gladysz richly illustrates the text with stills of Brooks from the famous film." -- Jack Garner, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

"Thomas Gladysz is the leading authority on all matters pertaining to the legendary Louise Brooks. We owe him a debt of gratitude for bringing the groundbreaking novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl - the basis of Miss Brooks's classic 1929 film - back from obscurity. It remains a fascinating work." -- Lon Davis, author of Silent Lives


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Snapshot highlights: San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The marquee of the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco.The theater opened in 1922, and many of
Louise Brooks' silent films screened there in the later 1920's.

Louise Brooks seemed to be just about everywhere at the recently concluded San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Her likeness, at times, was hard to miss, and Brooks' name could be heard on nearly everyone's lips. That's because the film for which the actress is best known today, Pandora's Box, was the centerpiece film of the 17th annual Festival, which was held July 12 through July 15 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. 

The 2012 SFSFF Program, which includes my
essay of the history of Pandora's Box
The centerpiece event took place on Saturday, July 14th, when the Festival screened a new, frame-by-frame, digital restoration of Pandora's Box, G.W. Pabst's classic retelling of Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays. The restoration, which runs 143 minutes, has been shown only twice before anywhere in the world. Fans gathered from all over for this historic event, with more than 1400 people packing the sold out Castro Theater.

Highly anticipated, this very special screening did not disappoint. I was there, and I can state this gorgeous print was a revelation. I have seen Pandora's Box many times, both in theaters and on DVD: consequently, I feel I am familiar with this silent masterpiece. Yet, sitting in the Castro, watching Pandora's Box on the theater's big, big screen, I felt I saw things in this new print I have never seen before.

As the star of the Festival's centerpiece film, Brooks  graced the cover of the Festival program. The program also contains an essay detailing the history of the film's critical reception, as well as a shorter piece on the story behind the film's restoration.

Besides appearing on the cover of the program, images of Brooks' were also featured in a slideshow projected before the screening of Pandora's Box, while related music - like the theme songs to such Brooks' films as Beggars of Life and Prix de Beaute - was played in the background.
And that's not all. I also I spotted at least a couple of women dressed as the actress, each sporting sharp black bobs. With all that said, here are some snapshot highlights of the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Thrilling! Brooks' larger than life image graced the screen of the Castro Theater
during the slide show which preceded Pandora's Box. That is Brooks in a scene
from the lost 1926 film, American Venus. In 2007, the San Francisco
Silent Film Festival screened its few surviving fragments.
These two slides also graced the screen of the Castro Theater. Since the late
1980s, Pandora's Box has screened at least eight times at the Castro!
Brooks is a favorite in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Before the film, San Francisco Silent Film Festival Artistic Director
Anita Monga (far right) introduced some of individuals involved in the
restoration of Pandora's Box.

After the film, Pandora's Box received a standing ovation.

On the left is David Ferguson. That's me in the middle. And on the right is
Angela Holm. David and Angela were the team behind the restoration of
Pandora's Box. David described me as the "keeper of the flame." Thank you.
But, it was David and Angela who did a wonderful job.
Swedish musician Matti Bye (center) chats with Angela Holm and
David Ferguson following the historic screening. Bye performed his
original score to Pandora's Box.
Here I am with acclaimed English actor Paul McGann (Withnail and I,
Doctor Who, etc...). Paul was on hand to narrate a couple of films at the
Festival. Paul is a silent film enthusiast, as well as a BIG Louise Brooks film.
Needless-to-say, we had a lot to talk about.
It was great to see old friends at the Festival. At left, I am standing with longtime
Louise Brooks Society member Camille Scaysbrook. She is originally from
Australia, and we've been emailing each other for at least a decade! And on the right,
I 'm with filmmaker Hugh Munro Neely, who directed the Emmy nominated
documentary, Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu.

Here I am with renowned film critic / film historian Leonard Maltin. Notice his
pin, which Leonard pointed out was an usher's film for Publix, the chain of
theater's owned by Paramount (Louise's primary studio).
William Wellman Jr. also attended the Festival, and introduced his Father's
Academy Award winning 1927 film, Wings. His Father also directed Louise
Brooks in the 1928 film, Beggars of Life.
Some of the Louise Brooks related merchandise for sale at the Festivals -
including autographed copies of Laura's Moriarty's novel, The Chaperone (left),
and the popular "Fearless" branded merch. There were also DVDs and books.
Following Pandora's Box, I signed copies of my Louise Brooks edition
of The Diary of a Lost Girl. I also put out some Louise Brooks collectibles.
Sitting next to me is my wife and LBS Associate Director Christy Pascoe.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks at the Castro Theater

It looks like tonight historic screening of Pandora's Box with Louise Brooks at the Castro Theater in San Francisco is going to sell out. That's 1400 Louise Brooks fans gathered together "spellbound in darkness." I can't wait!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Booksigning for Louise Brooks edition of Diary of a Lost Girl

For those interested, I am signing copies of my book, the "Louise Brooks edition" of THE DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, at the Castro Theater on Sat, July 14th, as part of the annual SF Silent Film Festival. My signing follows the Festivals presentation of a new restoration of Pandora's Box. This is a likely last signing for the book, as I only have 20 copies left of the book. More could be printed, and it is available through regular sources, but 20 is all I have left...... just saying.

Joining me at the signing table will be Hugh Munro Neely, the director of the great documentary film, Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu.

My book signing is part of  a great line-up of author signings (by film historians, biographers, etc....) taking place throughout the festival. More info on the San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lulu by the Bay: Screenings of Pandora's Box in the San Francisco Bay Area

In honor of the special July 14th screening of a new restoration of Pandora's Box (1929) at the Castro Theater, here are a list of all known theatrical showings and television broadcasts of the film in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. If you know of others, please send an email.

Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey (between Aug. 2-5, 1962 as part of Peninsula Film Seminar); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Oct. 5, 1972); Surf Theater in San Francisco (Jan. 22-23, 1974 with The Last Laugh); Wheeler Auditorium in Berkeley (Nov. 8, 1975 with L’Age D’Or); KTEH Channel 54 – San Jose television broadcast (Dec. 17, 1977 and Dec. 24, 1977 and Dec. 25, 1977); KQEC Channel 32 – San Francisco television broadcast (Dec. 24, 1977 and Dec. 25, 1977); Wheeler Auditorium in Berkeley (Feb. 10, 1978 with L’Age D’Or); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Jan. 20, 1980); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Mar. 7, 1981 as part of the series “Organ Accompaniment By Robert Vaughn”); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Dec. 7, 1983); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Jan. 27-28, 1985 with M); U.C. in Berkeley (Sept. 18, 1985); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Oct. 13, 1985 as part of the series “A Tribute to Louise Brooks (1906-1985)”; Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Oct. 29, 1986); Castro in San Francisco (Feb. 26, 1987 as part of “Vamps” series); U.C. in Berkeley (June 30, 1988); Castro Theater in San Francisco (Nov. 8, 1988); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Nov. 17, 1988); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Dec. 4, 1990 as part of the series “Surrealism and Cinema”);  Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (Apr. 5, 1992 as part of the series “Silent Film Classics”);  Castro in San Francisco (May 11, 1992 with Diary of a Lost Girl); Castro in San Francisco (May 5-8, 1995 accompanied by the Club Foot Orchestra, as part of the San Francisco Film Festival); Castro in San Francisco (Dec. 16-17, 1995 accompanied by the Club Foot Orchestra); Castro in San Francisco (Apr. 2, 1996 with Wings); Towne Theatre in San Jose (June 28, 1996); Castro in San Francisco (May 18, 1998 as part of Femme Fatale Festival); Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley (May 28, 2000); Stanford in Palo Alto (Sept. 5, 2001); Jezebel’s Joint in San Francisco (Feb. 10, 2003); Castro in San Francisco (July 15, 2006 as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, with introductions by Thomas Gladysz and Bruce Conner); Rafael Film Center in San Rafael (Nov. 11, 2006 introduced by Peter Cowie); California in San Jose (Mar. 9, 2007 as part of Cinequest); Castro in San Francisco (July 14, 2112 as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival).


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Paul McGann talks silents and Louise Brooks

This weekend, the celebrated English actor Paul McGann comes to San Francisco to take part in the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

On Saturday July 14th, McGann is teaming up with acclaimed British pianist Stephen Horne to present South (1919), director Frank Hurley’s moving documentary of Ernest Shackleton’s failed 1914-1917 expedition to Antarctica. Now restored by the British Film Institute with original tints and toning, the film is a stunning record of one of the great adventures in the annals of exploration. McGann will narrate, reading Shackleton’s letters to Horne’s elegiac score.

And on Sunday July 15th, McGann will read Georges Méliès’ original narration to the French filmmaker's A Trip to the Moon (1902). A new restoration of the early sci-fi classic, which recreates the exquisite hand coloring of Méliès’ original print, will be shown prior to the Festival’s final film, Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928).


Who is Paul McGann? As an actor, he first made a name for himself in 1986 as the lead in a historical BBC drama set during WWI, The Monocled Mutineer (this once-controversial series is just out on DVD in the UK). McGann is also known for his role in one of Britain's biggest cult films, the 1987 black comedy, Withnail and I. Other credits include parts in Empire of the Sun, Alien 3, Queen of the Damned, and the BBC's Our Mutual Friend and Hornblower series.

McGann may be best known, at least to science-fiction fans, as the Eighth Doctor, a role he played in the 1996 Doctor Who made-for-television movie. Its story, of the Doctor's regeneration and attempt to save the earth, is set in San Francisco in 1999, on the eve of the millennium.

McGann is, as well, a patron of Bristol Silents, a group formed to raise awareness and knowledge of silent film among the English film going public. He has introduced screenings of films from the silent era and written about them for newspapers including the Guardian in England; his piece on Louise Brooks, with whom he shares a birthday, is well worth checking out.

Recently, McGann answered a few questions about his interest in the silent era and what he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  

Thomas Gladysz: When did you first get interested in silent film?  

Paul McGann: About ten years ago after becoming a patron of Bristol Silents. I'd had a general interest since my student days in London, during which the restored Napoleon was premiered, Kevin Brownlow's Abel Gance and David Robinson's Chaplin were published, and Louise Brooks was being 're-discovered.'  

Thomas Gladysz: Tell me more about your involvement with Bristol Silents. How did that relationship come about?  

Paul McGann: I supported one of their early events, I think it was a screening of The Big Parade, and met Chris Daniels [a founder of the group]. He's kindly involved me in quite a few of their projects since, each bigger and better by the year.  

Thomas Gladysz: Any favorite films? How about favorite directors or stars?  

Paul McGann: The first director I worked with, Bruce Robinson, told me when we met that if I thought Jaws was the perfect movie I plainly hadn't seen The Gold Rush. So I did. He was right. I've been a fan of Louise Brooks since first seeing Pandora's Box on television. I remember thinking they must've had that girl playing Lulu parachuted in from the present.  

Thomas Gladysz: You've written and spoken about Louise Brooks, and introduced her films. What is it about the actress that attracts you?  

Paul McGann: She appeared to find, if only briefly, the perfect working spirit. Matchlessly beautiful, fully intelligent and a total natural; most screen actors would kill to be so blessed.  

Thomas Gladysz: At this year's San Francisco Silent Film festival, you're narrating South, Frank Hurley's documentary of Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica. What can we expect?  

Paul McGann as Doctor Who

Paul McGann: Musician Stephen Horne and myself will try to recreate at least a flavour of the public screenings Shackelton hosted at London's Philharmonic Hall in 1919 when he read from his memoir while Hurley's film played.  

Thomas Gladysz: Have you narrated the film before?  

Paul McGann: Twice, in Bristol and Pordenone, Italy.  

Thomas Gladysz: Are there any films you're especially excited about at this year's Festival.

Paul McGann: Aside from the thrill of seeing a beautifully restored Pandora's Box, I'm really intrigued about Little Toys from China and Erotikon from Sweden.  

Thomas Gladysz: You played a Time Lord in Doctor Who. Were you to travel back in time and return to the silent era and be cast in a film, which film would that be?  

Paul McGann: That's easy, Murnau's Sunrise. I'd gladly (my wife might say naturally) take over George O'Brien's duties as the man caught between Janet Gaynor and Margaret Livingston.

*****
Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found on their website at www.silentfilm.org. The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater July 12 - 15th. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Francis Lederer

Franz (or Francis) Lederer, Louise Brooks co-star in Pandora's Box, is one of two actors who star in two films at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

As this year's centerpiece program, the Festival will screen Pandora's Box (1929) in what is being described as a frame-by-frame digital restoration. This new and true restoration has only been shown twice before in the world, once in Los Angeles (where funder Hugh Hefner was present) and once in London at the BFI.


The other Lederer film which will be screened at the 2012 Festival is also from 1929, The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna. Directed by Hanns Schwarz (1888 - 1945), and set in Czarist St. Petersburg, The Wonderful Lie is the story of the mistress (Brigitte Helm) of an upper class general who gives up her pampered life for the love of a lowly lieutenant (played by Lederer). Here is a still from that film. Lederer stands in the street, while Helm looks down from the window above.


I saw this film when it was shown at Cinecon in Hollywood the 1990s. Lederer, though very old, was there, and he took questions from the audience about his career - including a couple about Louise Brooks. I even got his autograph on my Cinecon program and had a snapshot taken with the both of us in it.

At the time The Wonderful Lie was released, both Helm (Metropolis) and Lederer were major stars in Europe. Hanns Schwarz, though little known today, was an Austrian film director of note who would go on to direct twenty four films (both in English and German) between the years 1924 and 1937. His last film was the 1937 British thriller Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He died in California in 1945.

The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna is considered Schwarz's masterpiece. Superb in every way, the film is sometimes called “Ophülsian,” after the film director Max Ophüls, who is known for his distinctive smooth camera movements, complex crane and dolly sweeps, and tracking shots which influenced later directors from the young Stanley Kubrick to contemporary Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood).


Lederer came to America in 1931, and with the worsening situation in Europe, decided to stay. According to Wikipedia: "Lederer's first American movies were fairly light fare in which he played the leading man, in films such as Man of Two Worlds (1934), Romance in Manhattan (1934), opposite Ginger Rogers, The Gay Deception (1935), opposite Frances Dee, and One Rainy Afternoon (1936). He won the lead opposite Katharine Hepburn in the 1935 film Break of Hearts, but the producers replaced him with Charles Boyer. It was Irving Thalberg's plan to make Lederer "the biggest star in Hollywood" but the death of Thalberg ended that, and Lederer never really caught on as a star in the American mode."

"Although he continued to occasionally play leads – notably when he was a playboy in Billy Wilder's Midnight with Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore in 1939 – in the late 1930s Lederer began to expand his film acting repertoire with offbeat character parts, even playing villains. Edward G. Robinson praised Lederer's performance as a German American Bundist opposite him in Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939, and he earned plaudits for his portrayal of a Fascist in The Man I Married (1940) opposite Joan Bennett. He also played a vampire for The Return of Dracula in 1958."

Later films include parts in The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944), and in films such as Jean Renoir's The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), Million Dollar Weekend (1948) and later television shows such as The UntouchablesMission: Impossible and That Girl. His final television appearance occurred in a 1971 episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery. I have seen Lederer in Confessions of a Nazi Spy and The Return of Dracula and liked him in both, though both were lesser films.



The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna screens at the Castro Theater on Friday, July 13. Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found on their website at www.silentfilm.org. The Festival takes place July 12 – 15th.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What and Who (as in Doctor) not to miss at this year’s Silent Film Fest

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has more going for it than you might realize. Sure, they’re showing 15 features and a whole bunch of short films, but this festival is more than just celluloid. There are special guests, and musicians, and unusual programs. Where else, for instance, might you see a Russian silent, The Overcoat (1926), based on a story by Gogol, or for that matter a rare Chinese silent, Little Toys (1933), starring Ruan Lingyu, an actress known as "China’s Garbo."

This year, more than 10,000 people are expected to attend the Silent Film Festival, which is now in its 17th year. It’s grown to become the largest silent film festival in North America – and one of the largest in the world. Festival regular Leonard Maltin, who will be introducing a couple of programs, has stated “The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is in a class by itself.” And it’s true. Here are ten things not to miss at this year’s event, which is set to start on July 12th at the Castro Theater.

1) Wings – the first Oscar winner
The first thing not to miss is the Festival’s opening night film, which is also the first film to win an Oscar, Wings (1927). Director William A. Wellman’s newly restored WWI spectacle is the story of two men who go off to battle and the woman they leave behind. Made now long before he made Beggars of Life with Louise Brooks, Wings is also a rousing action film, whose truly spectacular aerial photography and scenes of air combat are the stuff of cinematic legend. Some say they have never been equaled. Also breathtaking is Clara Bow’s brief nudity, which caused a bit of a furor at the time. However, that’s not what got the film it’s recent PG-13 rating more than 80 years after its record setting premiere.  

Wings, now meticulously restored, will be introduced by William Wellman Jr (the director’s son) and will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, with live sound effects provided by multiple Academy Award winner Ben Burtt. (His credits include the Indiana Jones and Star Wars series, and notably such iconic sound effects as the hum of a light saber, the “voice” of R2-D2, the heavy-breathing of Darth Vader, etc….) What Burtt does with the roar of airplane engines and the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns should be just as memorable.

2) Doctor Who
That’s right, Doctor Who is attending this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival. But more than that, he is also participating. The celebrated English actor, silent film and Louise Brooks enthusiast, and Bristol Silents patron Paul McGann, who played the eighth incarnation of the Doctor, is teaming up with pianist Stephen Horne to present South (1919), Frank Hurley’s moving documentary of Ernest Shackleton’s failed/heroic 1914-1917 expedition to Antarctica. Now restored by the British Film Institute with original tints and toning, the film is a visually stunning record of one of the great adventures in the annals of exploration. McGann will narrate, reading Shackleton’s somber letters to Horne’s elegiac score. McGann’s many credits go beyond Doctor Who and include a bunch of BBC television (like the controversial Monocled Mutineer, which is just out on DVD in the UK) as well as feature films Withnail & I, Empire of the Sun, Alien 3, etc…. This unique presentation promises to be powerful, and moving.

Silent film enthusiast Paul McGann
Who is that: Silent film enthusiast Paul McGann

3) Sunshine and shadow
Silent films were both sunshine and shadow. This year’s Festival includes a handful of films which explore the dark, conflicted and sometimes seedy side of life. Notable among them is The Docks of New York (1928), Josef von Sternberg’s atmospheric silent which anticipates film noir in its depiction of hapless souls straight out of a police blotter. Also, don’t miss these three stories of unhappy love across class and social divides, Mantrap (1926) with “It Girl” Clara Bow, The Spanish Dancer (1923) with femme fatale and tragedienne Pola Negri, The Canadian (1926), based on the Somerset Maugham play, and Stella Dallas (1925), a riveting adaption of the popular novel made some 12 years before the more familiar version starring Barbara Stanwyck.

4) The Irrepressible Felix the Cat!
Not every film has an adult theme. In fact, there’s always a family friendly selection certain to appeal to kids. This year it’s a 70 minute program of silent era Felix the Cat cartoons which include Felix the Cat in Blunderland (1926) and Felix the Cat Weathers the Weather (1926). But what’s more, the musically wonder-filled Bay Area group, Toychestra, is teaming up with pianist Donald Sosin to accompany this sampling of rare animation. Toychestra is an all-woman musical ensemble which play toys. Some are actual instruments like toddler-sized pianos and xylophones. Others just make great sounds, like a multi-sonic Activity Center. Individually amplified and mixed live these “instruments” create a sophisticated aural experience that’s a far cry from a bunch of kids making a racket. All in all, this is a great way to introduce your youngster to early film. And what’s more, children under ten years of age are admitted free.

5) Louise Brooks
As Lulu, Louise Brooks is legend. So much so that the film for which she is best known today, Pandora’s Box (1929), will be shown twice on July 14th. The Magic Box Theater in Chicago is screening this seminal masterpiece, as is the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. If you don’t have a TARDIS and can only make one screening, I would recommend the San Francisco event. The Festival is showing a new and true restoration of Pandora’s Box, which is not available on DVD and has only been shown twice before anywhere in the world! Censored, cut, and critically disregarded when it first debuted, Pandora’s Box is today considered one of greatest of all silent films. This restoration, the Festival’s centerpiece film, was funded by silent movie enthusiast Hugh Hefner; it may be as close as Brooks' fans will ever get to director G.W. Pabst’s original vision – and Brooks’ original luminescence.

Louise Brooks plays Lulu in Pandora's Box

Louise Brooks plays Lulu in Pandora's Box

6) Music – The Sounds of Silents
Every film at the Festival, from the briefest short to the mightiest epic, is presented with live musical accompaniment. It’s the way silent films were meant to be shown, and a big reason for attending the Festival. This year, Dennis James will once again rock the house on the Castro’s mighty Wurlitzer as he accompanies both The Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Loves of Pharaoh (1922). Also set to fill the theater with lush, lyrical, sweeping, heart-swelling sounds are pianists Stephen Horne (coming all the way from England) and Donald Sosin, as well as the acclaimed Alloy Orchestra and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. And don’t miss the Swedish ensemble led by Matti Bye, regular performers at European film festivals and a winner of the Golden Beetle, Sweden’s Oscar. They will accompany the Swedish classic, Erotikon (1920), and debut their original score to Pandora’s Box, starring Louise Brooks.

7) Philip Kaufman
Every year a contemporary filmmaker with an appreciation for film history has been invited to the Silent Film Festival to present a program. Past directors have been Guy Maddin and Terry Zwigoff, and Academy Award winners Pete Docter and Alexander Payne. This year, the Festival welcomes Philip Kaufman, whose directorial credits include The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Henry and June, and Hemingway & Gellhorn. The latter recently premiered at Cannes International Film Festival. Kaufman will introduce the ineffably beautiful The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna (1929), starring the lovely Brigitte Helm (Metropolis) and the affable Franz Lederer (Louise Brooks' co-star in Pandora’s Box). It’s visually gorgeous, very European – and another story of unhappy love across class divide.

8 ) Authors and Books
It’s not only directors and actors who attend the Festival, but also writers, historians, archivists and critics. This year, nearly 20 authors including acclaimed biographers and film historians will be on hand signing their books. Not to be missed are the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle – The Beauty of the Real: What Hollywood Can Learn from Contemporary French Actresses (Stanford), former San Francisco Examiner critic Michael Sragrow – Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master (Pantheon), Jeff Codori – Colleen Moore: A Biography of the Silent Film Star (McFarland), San Francisco biographer Emily Leider – Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood (University of California), Los Angeles blogger Mary Mallory – Hollywoodland (Arcadia) and Wendy Marshall – William Beaudine: From Silents to Television (Scarecrow Press). Myrna Loy, as many fans know, appeared in the 1928 Louise Brooks film, A Girl in Every Port.

Wendy Marshall, by the way, is the granddaughter of Beaudine, and one of a handful of children and grandchildren of silent film personalities in attendance at the Festival. Author and film historian Jeffrey Vance, who once spoke with Louise Brooks, will also be coming to town to introduce The Mark of Zorro (1920). His splendid 2008 book, Douglas Fairbanks (University of California Press), helped inspire, and even shape, the recent Academy Award-winning film, The Artist. Director Michel Hazanavicius told him as much. Vance will also be signing books after Zorro makes his mark.

The authors of these books will attend the Silent Film Festival
The authors of these books will attend the Silent Film Festival

9) A Trip to the Moon
If you saw Martin Scorcese’s Hugo (which contained a brief visual reference to Louise Brooks), or if you ever took a film class, chances are you’re familiar with Georges Méliès’ delightful A Trip to the Moon (1902). However, you’ve never seen this version of Méliès’ masterpiece, a new fully tinted restoration which recreates the exquisite hand coloring of Méliès’ original print. A Trip to the Moon will be shown prior to the Festival’s final film, Buster Keaton’s ridiculously sublime The Cameraman (1928). Though very different, both are classics. And what’s more, Méliès’ original narration for A Trip to the Moon will be read by a very special guest, namely Paul McGann.

10) The Castro Theater
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival takes place at the historic Castro Theater, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary. (Most all of Louise Brooks American silent films showed there in the 1920s.) Built in 1922, this grand 1400 seat theater is one of the finest movie palaces in the Bay Area. It is also full of history. Just ask local theater historians Jack Tillmany and Gary Lee Parks, who will be on hand signing copies of their newest book, Theatres of the San Francisco Peninsula (Arcadia).

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival takes place July 12 through 15 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. More info, including the compete program of films and more, can be found online at www.silentfilm.org

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Evelyn Lear, Versatile Soprano who sang Lulu, Dies at 86

Today's New York Times ran an obit on Evelyn Lear, the versatile Soprano who sang the role of  Lulu in Alan Berg's great modern opera, Lulu. Lear was 86. The newspaper notes
Evelyn Lear, an American soprano who became a star in Europe in the 1950s and later won acclaim in the United States for singing some of the most difficult roles in contemporary opera, died on Sunday .... She was especially renowned as an interpreter of Alban Berg. In midcentury Europe, Miss Lear was considered one of the pre-eminent interpreters of Berg’s Lulu, the doomed, murderous prostitute at the heart of his 1937 opera of that name.... Her talent for quick study served her well two years later [in 1960], when the Vienna Festival asked her to take over the part of Lulu — a role she had never sung — on short notice. The opera is composed in the 12-tone or “serial” style, an eminently unhummable technique in which all 12 notes of the Western musical scale are used in rigorously equal proportion.... Her other Met roles include ... in later years, Countess Geschwitz in “Lulu.”
Berg's opera, like Pandora's Box — the G.W. Pabst film from 1929 (which stars Louise Brooks as Lulu), was based on the Lulu plays by Frank Wedekind. Berg's opera, unfinished at his death, is considered one of the greatest opera's of the 20th century. I have seen it performed once, in San Francisco, and own a couple of different films of the opera. I have heard a radio broadcast of it, from the Met in New York. I also have four different recordings of Berg's Lulu, including Lear's. It is a riveting work. And her's is a riveting performance. Each is well worth checking out.



Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Amelia Lowe has our vote

Amelia Lowe has our vote. The "So You Think You Can Dance" contestant sports a sleek Louise Brooks bob and admits to a love of the 1920's and silent film.  The Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey ran a story about Lowe in today's paper. The piece is titled "Silence is golden: Amelia Lowe embraces the 1920s on 'So You Think You Can Dance'." And here is a video clip of her recent appearance on the television show. She charms.


More about the 18 year old Amelia Lowe can be found here.
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