The popular event, now in its 21st year, takes place June 2-5 at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Along with a lively, eclectic line-up of films in an appropriate setting, each film features live musical accompaniment and often a special introduction. All together, it's a film lover's dream. This local Festival is at the forefront of world festivals devoted to silent cinema.
If you've never been, a great introduction to what it's all about is opening night. This year, the featured film is Beggars of Life (1928), starring Oscar winner Wallace Beery and silent film legend Louise Brooks. In what is widely regarded as her best American film, Brooks is riveting as a freight-train hopping runaway who dresses as a boy to escape the police. Can Brooks, a renowned beauty, pull it off? William Wellman, whose Wings (1927) won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Picture, directs with aplomb. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. (Following the film, there is an opening night party at the nearby McRoskey Mattress Company.)
Do clothes make the man? Ossi Oswalda (left) in I Don't Want to be a Man. Louise Brooks (right) in Beggars of Life. Courtesy of SFSFF
Another not-to-be-missed program is "Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema." This program presents an equally delectable collection of films from the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam which show the ingenious techniques artists first used to create color cinema--long before the advent of Technicolor. Exquisite examples of hand painting, dyeing, and stencil coloring illuminate these early trick films and travelogues--each a virtuosic window into the imagination of early filmmakers.
A scene from The Tulips (1907), one of 15 short color films in the "Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema" program. Courtesy of SFSFF
Speaking of restorations, be sure not to miss the free Friday presentation "Amazing Tales from the Archives." Among others, French filmmaker and restoration expert Georges Mourier will talk about his ongoing six-and-a-half-hour restoration of Abel Gance's Napoleon for the Cinémathèque Française, in partnership with Francis Ford Coppola, and The Film Preserve Ltd. That program will be followed by A Woman of the World (1925), starring uber vamp Pola Negri. The latter has been recently restored by Paramount Pictures.
The Polish-born actress Pola Negri stars in the Malcom St. Clair directed A Woman of the World. Courtesy of SFSFF
The Festival's closing film is Victor Fleming's When the Clouds Roll By (1919). In one of his last "Coat and Tie" comedies before transforming himself into the screen's most dashing swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. plays the unwitting subject of a nefarious doctor's hypnosis experiment. Tracey Goessel, author of the recent stellar biography of Fairbanks, The First King of Hollywood, will introduce.
The 2016 Festival features a number of special guests, with none more illustrious than David Robinson, the recently retired Director of the Giornate del cinema muto silent film festival (commonly known as Pordenone). Robinson began writing for Sight and Sound and other publications in the 1950s, and was later film critic for The Times of London. He has authored a number of books, among them Hollywood in the Twenties (1968) and The History of World Cinema (1973). His bestselling Chaplin: His Life and Art, published in 1985, and was source material for the 1992 Richard Attenborough film Chaplin, starring Robert Downey, Jr.
Prior to the screening of the Anthony Asquith-directed behind-the-scenes look at British moviemaking, Shooting Stars (1928), the 2016 San Francisco Silent Film Festival Award will be presented to Robinson for his commitment to the preservation of silent cinema.
A scene from Fritz Lang's Destiny, which will be introduced by the popular contemporary actress Illeana Douglas. Courtesy of SFSFF
For a complete schedule of films, visit the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website at www.silentfilm.org. Here is the line-up of signings taking place at the Festival.
- 2:15 pm (after A Woman of the World): Thomas Gladysz (Diary of a Lost Girl), Joan Craig (Theda Bara, My Mentor), and JC Garrett (limited-edition posters)
- 5:40 pm (after Mothers of Men): Mary Mallory and Karie Bible (Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays), Cari Beauchamp (My First Time in Hollywood), and Shelley Stamp (Lois Weber in Early Hollywood and Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema)
- 1:50 pm (after The Strongest): William Wellman, Jr. (Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel)
- 4:25 pm (after Shooting Stars): David Robinson (Chaplin: His Life and Art) and Bryony Dixon (100 Silent Films and Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema)
- 1:15 pm (after Girls Will Be Boys): Laura Horak (Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-Dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908-1934)
- 3:00 pm (after Nanook of the North): Illeana Douglas (I Blame Dennis Hopper, and Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies) and Tracey Goessel (The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks)
- 5:30 pm (after Destiny): Wayne Shellabarger (SFSFF21 and other posters)