Monday, April 6, 2015

Upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Here is the line-up of films for the upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival, set to take place May 28th through June 1st at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco. Among the special guests expected to attend are Oscar winner Kevin Brownlow (author of The Parades Gone By), Louise Brooks' fan Paul McGann (the eighth incarnation of Doctor Who), and the celebrated archivist Serge Bromberg, among others. It's an event not to be missed. Among the certain highlights are Colleen Moore in Why Be Good?, Greta Garbo in Flesh and the Devil, and Emil Jannings in The Last Laugh.

All Quiet On The Western Front
Live musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Lewis Milestone’s filmed version of the classic antiwar drama All Quiet on the Western Front was the first to win Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Best Director. At its release the film was prepared both as a talkie and as a sync-sound “silent” version with title cards, orchestral score, and sound effects. But this version was lost until the Library of Congress discovered the alternate without dialogue and restored it for the anniversary of the Great War. Leonard Maltin notes, “some film scholars actually prefer this smoothly-edited edition ... to the familiar talkie because of its vigorous pacing...” Based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, the story is told through the heartrending experiences of young Germans recruited into the carnage of World War I. Our presentation will feature a new score and live sound effects sound created especially for the silent version.
Amazing Tales From The Archives
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
Preservationist and raconteur Serge Bromberg, of Lobster Films in Paris, will share the entertaining story of finding Maurice Tourneur’s 1914 short FIGURES DE CIRE (HOUSE OF WAX). It took 15 years to unearth the film, and today it receives a long-awaited screening! Bryony Dixon, BFI’s senior curator of silent film, brings a treasure trove of footage about the RMS Lusitania, the British ocean liner that was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat to international outcry 100 years ago.  Liverpool-born actor Paul McGann will accompany Dixon’s presentation, adding narration to the films. Film restorer Robert Byrne will describe the meticulous process of reconstructing and restoring William Gillette’s SHERLOCK HOLMES—a film thought lost until a complete dupe negative was identified in the vaults of the Cinémathèque Française last year. Byrne’s presentation will include the technical, historical, and curatorial aspects of returning the film to a state as close as possible to that experienced by audiences almost 100 years ago.

Just added: 2015 marks 100 years since the birth of the Technicolor Corporation. In recognition of this centennial, Movette Film Transfer's Jennifer Miko will offer a rare glimpse of a unique home movie shot on the grounds of La Cuesta Encantada, more commonly known as Hearst Castle. We will feast our eyes on a stunning tour--filmed in two-strip Tech--with the architect, Julia Morgan, and the Chief himself, W.R. Hearst.

Cave of the Spider Women (Pan si dong)
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius
Since so much of early Chinese cinema has been lost, the recent discovery of a nitrate 35mm print of Cave of the Spider Women in the archives of the National Library of Norway was cause for worldwide celebration. Cave of the Spider Women is a rare example of the magic-spirit film, a popular genre in ’20s Shanghai, and its story comes from a classic masterpiece of Chinese literature involving a pilgrim monk and the search for Buddhist texts. The monk and his followers—monkey, pig, and shark spirit—ward off the Spider Queen who tries to seduce the pilgrim. The film set Chinese box-office records in 1927 but was considered lost until the discovery in Norway.
When the Earth Trembled
Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
In 1913, early film mogul Siegmund Lubin decided that the time had come to begin producing films longer than the one- or two-reel (10-25-minute) films that were the norm. Keeping with his philosophy that “spectacles and disasters” were what audiences wanted to see, he went all-in with his first mega-production, a three-reel film titled When the Earth Trembled, or The Strength of Love, featuring the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire as its centerpiece. At a time when the Lubin Studio was producing two completed films per week, an unheard-of four months were devoted to creating the special effects and collapsing sets that would recreate the disaster. Now more than one hundred years after its original release, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has teamed with EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam to restore and preserve When the Earth Trembled and return it to the screen.
The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)
Live musical accompaniment by Berklee Silent Film Orchestra
In this, his greatest role, Emil Jannings plays the chief porter at a prestigious hotel, a position affording him respect and dignity. His military-style uniform is the emblem of his stature­—especially among his poor neighbors—and a source of great personal pride, so his subsequent demotion to washroom attendant and the loss of the uniform is devastating. The film’s emotional depth is bolstered by its technical innovation—Murnau’s “unchained” camera is as beautifully expressive as Jannings’s breathtaking performance and allows the story to flow without the need for intertitles.
The Ghost Train
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius, narration by Paul McGann
Based on the hugely successful stage play by Arnold Ridley, The Ghost Train employs a variety of techniques, from animation to superimposition, that highlight Hungarian director Géza von Bolváry’s visual approach to storytelling. But for all its foreign influence, The Ghost Train remains singularly British in its humor and eccentric characters as it tells the story of travelers stranded overnight at a dubiously haunted train station. The extant print of the film comes from the British Film Institute but has French intertitles!

Live musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Harold Lloyd’s last silent film is classic Lloyd, replete with ingenious gags and hilarious set pieces. Harold ‘Speedy’ plays a good-natured bumbler who can’t hold down a job. Speedy has two passions: his girlfriend (Ann Christy) and baseball. The first takes him to the famous amusement park at Coney Island, the second to Yankee Stadium with Babe Ruth in tow!
Visages d'enfants
Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Jacques Feyder’s eloquent Visages d’enfants takes place in a remote village in the Swiss Alps where the film opens with 11-year-old Jean (Jean Forest) watching as his mother’s coffin is carried away. This moving portrayal of childhood grief is told with unwavering honesty and profound humanity. Film theorist Jean Mitry wrote, “If I could select only one film from the entire French production of the 1920s, surely it is Faces of Children that I would save.”
The Donovan Affair
Live musical accompaniment and narration by the Gower Gulch Players
After no-good Jack Donovan kills the lights at a house party for effect, guests find he’s the knife-skewered victim—and then inspector Jack Holt is called in. A classic dark-house comedy whodunit, with a classic denouement, based on a play by the prolific Owen Davis (whose 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Icebound is currently being revived Off-Off-Broadway), The Donovan Affair was for Capra “the beginning of a true understanding of the skills of my craft” and his first “100% all-Dialogue Picture.” But its original soundtrack—recorded on 16” disks (before sound-on-film became standard)—has long been lost. The one existing print, at the Library of Congress, is completely silent, rendering the picture completely incomprehensible. For this special screening at SFSFF, the lost Donovan Affair soundtrack will be recreated live, with the dialogue instantaneously dubbed by actors hand-picked for their affinity to the acting style of the late ’20s and ’30s, along with live music and recreated sound effects. This unique presentation has been shown only three times before, in New York and Los Angeles. Aside from these few special screenings, Donovan has not been seen since its original release, 85 years ago.
Flesh and the Devil
Live musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble
Leo (John Gilbert) and Ulrich (Lars Hanson) are companions whose lifelong friendship is torn apart over their mutual love for the beautiful Felicitas (Greta Garbo). Clarence Brown’s superb direction and William H. Daniels’s exquisite photography are matched by brilliant performances. Garbo is at her most alluring here, and the growing off-screen passion between her and Gilbert permeates their on-screen chemistry.
Live musical accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald
This brilliant film adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Knut Hamsun’s famous 1894 novel Pan was scripted and directed by Harald Schwenzen, a talented young actor. It was his directorial debut—a masterpiece—and although he never directed another, Pan is so exquisitely rendered and psychologically astute it has secured Schwenzen’s reputation in cinema history. Schwenzen wrote in the film’s original program, “The task we have given ourselves is to make a beautiful and artistic pictorialization of Hamsun’s strangest story. Outwardly, there is no strong plot in Pan which could possibly tempt us, but the book is, with its powerful beauty and lyricism, so rich in atmosphere, so characteristic and strong in its human descriptions, that it offers both the director and the actors a very special artistic task. If we have succeeded, through our images, together with excerpts of Hamsun’s text, to give life to these people and this atmosphere, as in the book, then we have fulfilled the great task we set for ourselves.” 

Amazing Charley Bowers
Live musical accompaniment by Serge Bromberg
Almost forgotten in the US until Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films revived his oeuvre in 2010, Charley Bowers (nicknamed ‘Bricolo’ in France) directed and acted in masterpieces of live action and puppet animation in the late 1920s. In spite of being championed by André Breton and the Surrealists for his extraordinary vision, Bowers’s films slipped into obscurity by the end of the 1930s. Now, the surviving films have been beautifully restored from original elements gleaned from archives and collectors around the world. Films include: A WILD ROOMER (1926, 24 minutes), NOW YOU TELL ONE (1926, 22 minutes), MANY A SLIP (1927, 12 minutes), THERE IT IS (1928, 17 minutes)
Avant-Garde Paris
Live musical accompaniment by Earplay and Stephen Horne
Two extraordinary films from Paris in the 1920s illustrate the artistic and intellectual ferment of the time when many of the world’s great artists and thinkers convened in the City of Lights. 
EMAK-BAKIA (d. Man Ray, 1927, 16 minutes) American artist Man Ray lived in Paris in the 1920s, where he created some of his most well-known works, including several avant-garde films that added to his considerable stature. (ARTnews named Ray one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century.) Ray’s cinépoème EMAK-BAKIA will be presented with a new score, composed by Nicolas Tzortzis and performed by the new chamber music group Earplay. MÉNILMONTANT (d. Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926, 44 minutes) The great film writer Pauline Kael named MÉNILMONTANT her favorite film of all time, calling it, “an exquisite, poetic 40-minute movie that is one of the least known masterpieces of the screen.” Written and directed by the Russian émigré Dmitri Kirsanov, who came to cinema as a cellist in a Paris movie house, the film tells the story of two sisters (Nadia Sibirskaïa, Yolande Beaulieu) in dazzlingly experimental style.
Why Be Good?
Live musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
The vivacious comedienne Colleen Moore is perfect in the role of aptly-named Pert Kelly. Pert’s a shop girl by day and a flapper by night. The very image of a modern gal, she has a wild reputation but lives at home with mom and dad. When the boss’s son Winthrop Peabody Jr. (Neil Hamilton) falls for her, Pert gets the ax. But Junior is still smitten and he devises a test to convince Winthrop Senior of Pert’s virtue.
Live musical accompaniment by the Matti Bye Ensemble
Four female office workers share a flat and the experience of being self-sufficient in a man’s world. This incandescent comedy, starring the legendary Swedish star Tora Teje, is remarkably modern in its outlook and technique. Director Per Lindberg includes an astonishing shot of endless rows of typists in a huge office space that predates similar, more famous, scenes in King Vidor’s The Crowd and Billy Wilder’s The Apartment by years.
Sherlock Holmes
Live musical accompaniment by the Donald Sosin Ensemble
The silent film version of Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette has been found! Long considered lost since its first release, the Gillette film is a vital missing link in the history of Holmes on screen. Directed by Arthur Berthelet and produced by Essanay Studios in 1916, it was discovered at the Cinémathèque Française recently. By the time the film was made, Gillette had been established as the world’s foremost interpreter of Holmes on stage. He gave his face and manner to the detective and inspired the classic illustrations of Frederic Dorr Steele. Dynamic but calm, he played Holmes in the colorful attire—bent-stemmed briar, ornate dressing gown, and deerstalker cap—that has been identified ever since with the character. Just as durable was Gillette’s distinctive bearing, preserved in the film: the charismatic, all-seeing detective who dominates scenes with his preternatural stillness. Booth Tarkington famously wrote after seeing Gillette on stage, “I would rather see you play Sherlock Holmes than be a child again on Christmas morning.” For the well-known Chicago bookman, Vincent Starrett, Gillette was beyond criticism. But perhaps the most telling accolade came from Arthur Conan Doyle himself, who had killed Holmes off and thought he was through with the character. After reading Gillette’s adaptation for the stage, he said, “It’s good to see the old chap back.”

“Sir Arthur, you don’t know the half of it,” says Professor Russell Merritt, the supervising editor of the film's preservation project and member of the Baker Street Irregulars. “At last we get to see for ourselves the actor who kept the first generation of Sherlockians spellbound. We can also see where the future Holmeses—Rathbone, Brett, Cumberbatch, and the rest—come from. As far as Holmes is concerned, there’s not an actor dead or alive who hasn’t consciously or intuitively played off Gillette.” The newly found Essanay production is not only Gillette’s sole surviving appearance as Holmes. It is also the only film Gillette ever made, a unique opportunity to view the work of a major American actor in the legendary role that he wrote for himself. The film faithfully retains the play’s famous set pieces—Holmes’s encounter with Professor Moriarty, his daring escape from the Stepney Gas Chamber, and the tour-de-force deductions—and illustrates how Gillette wove bits from Conan Doyle’s stories, ranging from “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “The Final Problem,” into an original, innovative mystery play.

The Swallow and the Titmouse (L'Hirondelle et la Mésange)
Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Diana Rowan
This remarkable film spent 63 years on the shelf unedited before film editor Henri Colpi discovered more than six hours of André Antoine’s saga and trimmed the footage to an exquisite 79 minutes.
The dramatic family story is set on two barges, the Hirondelle and the Mésange, as they bring coal and other supplies to areas depleted by the recent war. Antoine’s pioneering film was depicted in an almost documentary style, and his dazzling realism would take many years to catch on.

The Deadlier Sex
Live musical accompaniment by Guenter Buchwald
After her father’s death, Mary Willard (Blanche Sweet) takes over his business interest. Willard Sr.’s right hand man Harvey Judson (Mahlon Hamilton) has more cutthroat business practices in mind, and Mary has him kidnapped to protect her shareholders (and teach him a lesson). In the end of this gentle comedy, Mary and Harvey propose another merger that has little to do with business. Boris Karloff has a small role as an unspecified foreigner.
100 Years in Post-Production: Resurrecting a Lost Landmark Of Black Film History
Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin
At a challenging time of segregation in the fall of 1913, a virtuoso cast of African-American performer,s led by famed Caribbean-American entertainer Bert Williams (1874–1922), gathered in the Bronx to make a feature-length motion picture. After more than an hour of film was shot, the unreleased project was abandoned by its white producers and left forgotten until today. Found in MoMA’s Biograph Studio collection, the seven reels of untitled and unassembled footage represent the earliest known surviving feature with a cast of black actors. Shot at locations in New York and New Jersey, the comedy centers on Williams’s efforts to win the hand of the local beauty and boasts among its highlights a two-minute exhibition dance sequence and a cutting-edge display of on-screen affection between its black leads. Additionally, nearly 100 remarkable still images of the interracial production were recovered from within the unedited material, providing evidence of an historic effort by a little-known Harlem theatrical community to gain access to the developing medium of moving pictures. SFSFF presents the Museum’s restoration of this lost landmark of film history with an hour-long assemblage of daily rushes and multiple takes. MoMA project leader, Associate Curator Ron Magliozzi, will narrate a selection of unique photographs from the pioneering production and present visual material explaining the film’s creation, 101-year disappearance, and ultimate resurrection.
Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Soundtrack with a score by Carl Davis
The story of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Ramón Novarro), whose brush with Jesus has significant consequences, Ben-Hur left its mark on history for being the most expensive Hollywood production of its time. Directed and produced on a grand scale, it’s a must-see for the virtuosity of its action scenes and the high impact of its storytelling style. Unmissable is the world famous chariot race scene, for which a real race was staged, filmed by 42 cameras, attended by the cream of Hollywood and with cowboys and stunt men as the chariot racers. 
Kevin Brownlow will appear on stage in conversation with Serge Bromberg directly preceding the screening!

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