Friday, July 8


Prepare for silence

This evening marks the beginning of the 10th Annual edition of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre, and especially since I missed last year's festival due to a family commitment, I plan to be there (though I must admit I haven't bought tickets yet). This is perhaps my favorite of Frisco's many film festivals, and it's not just because I love silent films so much; it's also because its so well-run in every way, with great musicians, guest speakers, program guides, copresentations, etc. They've picked a great niche, to be sure; of all films I think it's silents that suffer most when projected poorly or watched on a television, so having a top-class festival of such films is a can't-miss proposition in my book. And they always have a great selection, mixing established (yet rarely-screened) classics with real discoveries from the vault. This year I've seen only one of the choices, Victor Sjöstrom's The Scarlet Letter starring Lillian Gish, and it fits in both categories. I'm not alone in thinking of it as the greatest film made by the Swedish director after coming to Hollywood and changing his name to Seastrom (though there may be more who would cite The Wind or He Who Gets Slapped) but the version being screened at 4PM on Sunday was recently restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and hasn't been shown very many places. The January 2004 Sjöstrom retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive, for example, showed the heavily cut version found on many cheap videocassettes and DVDs. The festival's version really bites; it's a cutting illustration of what makes America different from Europe, made by an immigrant who would really notice these things.

What else have they picked out? Well, I'm probably most excited about tonight's Harold Lloyd film For Heaven's Sake, not one of his most celebrated films but one few have seen. The Castro and the PFA are showing a lot of Harold's films this summer, but this is the only local screening scheduled to be scored by a live organist, Chris Elliott. King Vidor's anti-war the Big Parade was supposedly the biggest box-office hit of the 1920's, at least until sound and the Jazz Singer came along. The Clara Bow star vehicle It is a reprise from the 2001 festival and I'm sure they wouldn't play it again if it wasn't really good. Stage Struck is directed by Allan Dwan, who I want to become more familiar with. Sunday morning's The Sideshow sounds like a fascinating role for Little Billy Rhodes, who later played a Wizard of Oz munchkin. Add to that list a collection of animated films and a pair from the silent industries of Brazil and India, and I can easily imagine myself going to every single program, though realistically I know that isn't likely to happen.

Speaking of films being shown with live music accompaniment, I just noticed that SF Performances is putting together a weekend of Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqasti, accompanied by the Phillip Glass Ensemble performing live at Davies Hall next...February 17-19, 2006. Well you heard it here first, so mark your calendars and buy advance tickets. Funny that I find this out just after typing about Koyaanisqatsi in my last blog entry.

And while I'm cleaning up my desk, we're now in the thick of a new calendar for the Rafael Film Center up in Marin County. Notable picks include next Wednesday's 7PM screening of Sam Fuller's White Dog, next Thursday's 7PM screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Adaptation (that's right, the teenager-made version), a week of Werner Herzog's Wheel of Time starting July 22, and a Greta Garbo mini-series in early September. I still haven't seen any of these films except for one of the Garbos (Ninotchka), so if you're driving up from Frisco and have space in the car let me know!

Finally, closer to (my) home, I noticed walking by the Four Star Theatre today that the banner for the 9th Asian Film Festival has been hung. The banner and website say it runs August 4-14, but the guy behind the ticket window told me to expect it from the 11th to the 28th instead, for some reason. Do with that what you will.

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