SILENT FILM FESTIVAL – Opens July 14th with re-discovered film by John Ford

“He Who Gets Slapped” (1924) – starring Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, and John Gilbert – will close the four-day festival at the Castro Theatre

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Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

The Silent Film Festival – July 14th—17th at the Castro Theatre — is one of San Francisco’s most prestigious and internationally beloved events. Every year the Festival includes a free presentation on the state-of-the-art developments in the preservation of films produced in the Silent Era. Prior to each of the screenings are brief but amazing introductions which include accounts of discoveries around the world of films once regarded as hopelessly lost or beyond salvage. The Festival’s presentation of pristine-looking films – including those nearing or past the century mark – is an astonishing feat. It has inspired international industry and creativity across the board in the scientific world and fuels the passions of film historians and preservationists. And for the music lovers – only the best musicians in the world accompany the selected films during the four-day screenings. This year’s roster includes the Alloy Orchestra, pianist Stephen Horne, organist Dennis James, the Matti Bye Ensemble, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and pianist Donald Sosin. The opulent atmosphere of The Castro Theatre is the most perfect and appropriate setting for the Silent Film Festival. The total experience of even a single film is the closest any of us will ever come to the excitement of a Hollywood Opening Night during a not-so-long-ago era when no one really cared that the images of emerging gods and goddesses were not in blazing color or that their voices were absent. They had faces! They were inventing the Art of Filmmaking and the magic of Celebrity. And it’s all new all over again.
Click here for ticket information: SILENT FILM FESTIVAL

THE 16th ANNUAL SILENT FILM FESTIVAL PROGRAM

THURSDAY, JULY 14th:

UPSTREAM, 1927. 7:00 pm
Starring Nancy Nash and Earl Foxe
Directed by: John Ford
USA. 61 minutes
Restoration by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Part of the National Film Preservation Foundation repatriation initiative
Accompanied by: The Sosin Ensemble

upstream-1927
NANCY NASH and EARL FOXE

John Ford’s splendid 1927 backstage comedy was long believed lost. Fortunately for us, Upstream was among 75 American films discovered in New Zealand and repatriated to the United States for preservation. The first of the features to be preserved and screened for the public, John Ford – already known for his Westerns at the time and strongly influenced by F.W. Murnau – applies his keen skills to a droll story of a showbiz love triangle.

SUNRISE, 1927. 9:15 pm
Starring George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor
Directed by: F.W. Murnau
USA. 94 minutes, 35mm
Accompanied by: Giovanni Spinelli

sunrise-1927
JANET GAYNOR and GEORGE O’BRIEN

F.W. Murnau was a formidable technician and arguably the supreme cine-aesthete of the 1920s: painter of light, choreographer of camera movement, and maestro of mise-en-scene. Following the successes of The Last Laugh and Faust, Fox brought the “German genius” to Hollywood and gave him the keys to the studio.

FRIDAY, JULY 15th

Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program I — 11:00 am
FREE ADMISSION
60 minutes. With presentations by UCLA Film Archive, Academy Film Archive, and George Eastman House.

HUCKLEBERRY FINN, 1920 — 2:00 pm
Starring: Lewis Sargent, George Reed
Directed by: William Desmond Taylor
USA. 85 minutes, 35 mm
Restored print from George Eastman House
Accompanied by: Donald Sosin

huckleberry-finn
LEWIS SARGENT and GORDON GRIFFITH

Huckleberry Finn was both a critical and commercial hit. Wanting to be as faithful to the source material as possible, William Desmond Taylor went on location to Mississippi to shoot the film. With the advent of talking pictures, the film was forgotten and almost lost forever. Restored by George Eastman House, Huckleberry Finn is restored to the screen as a piece of film history and an important part of Taylor’s now fragmentary body of work.

I WAS BORN, BUT… (1932) — 4:15 pm
Starring: Tatsuo Saito, Tomio Aoki
Japan. 90 minutes, 35 mm
Directed by: Yasujiro Ozu
Accompanied by: Giovanni Spinelli, Stephen Horne

Yasujiro Ozu’s I Was Born, But… is a comedy, sometimes a boisterous one, set in a world where relations – among classes, between parents and children – seem fixed rather than fluid. Beneath the Our Gang schoolboy antics that make up much of the action is a clear-eyed and humane critique of inequality and authority. In this small masterpiece, perfect in design and execution, profundity and charm go hand-in-hand. (A.O. Scott, NYT)

THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE, 1924 — 7:00 pm
Directed by: Herbert Ponting
UK. 106 mins, 35mm. A restored print from the British Film Institute
Accompanied by: Matti Bye Ensemble

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THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE, 1924

A hundred years ago, cinematographer Herbert Ponting joined Captain Robert F. Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic as official photographer. Ponting not only captured the magnificent vistas and charming wildlife, but documented camp life and scientific work as well. In 1924, he edited the footage into this extraordinary feature complete with vivid toning and tinting. The British Film Institute has recently restored the film using modern techniques to recreate the dazzling color and brilliant detail of the original.

IL FUOCO, 1915 — 9:30 pm
Cast: Pina Menichelli, Febo Mario
Directed by: Giovanni Pastrone
Italy. 51 minutes. 35mm
Accompanied by: Giovanni Spinelli, Stephen Horne

il-fuoco1
PINA MENICHELLI

Bypassing the familiar spectacle of female suffering, but not, as might be expected, by turning to any consequent pathos for the male, Il Fuoco offers the pleasurable spectacle of a diva whose only love is herself. Pina Menichelli’s poetess is a pure, unadulterated femme fatale, a practiced predator who takes pleasure in her own taking pleasure. To watch Menichelli quickly seduce her young field mouse and then just as quickly get rid of him is to truly understand the counterforces of attraction and repulsion. (L. Williams, Giornate del Cinema Muto)

SATURDAY, July 16th

Laugh-O-Grams from Disney — 10:00 am
USA. 60 minutes.
Accompanied by: Donald Sosin

Variations on a Theme: Musicians on the Craft of Composing and Performing for Silent Film — Noon
70 mins
The Festival Musicians discuss and debate their craft in this lively panel, moderated by Jill Tracy. Program includes members of Matti Bye Ensemble, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Alloy Orchestra, and Dennis James, Giovanni Spinelli, Stephen Horne, and Donald Sosin.

THE BLIZZARD, Gunnar Hedes Saga, 1923 — 2:00
Starring: Einar Hanson, Mary Johnson
Directed by: Mauritz Stiller
Sweden. 73 mins, 35mm
Accompanied by: Matti Bye Ensemble

einar-hanson-and-the-blizzard
EINAR HANSON

Mauritz Stiller’s free adaptation of Nobel Prize-winner Selma Lagerlöf’s romantic melodrama might be the most intensely beautiful, intriguing, and ambitious of Stiller’s saga films. The Blizzard, impeccably composed and designed, and blessed with Julius Jaenzon’s stunning photography, tells the story of a dreamy young man who, groomed to take over the family business, rejects his duty, is injured and becomes deluded, and is nursed back to health and sanity by love and music. With some 680 meters missing from the original, the Swedish Film Institute has effected a restoration of the film, authentically color-tinted, with all its intertitles reassembled. The result is a perfectly coherent narrative, with what Jon Wengström of the SFI calls the juicy stuff (such as a spectacular reindeer sequence) still intact. (C. Jeavons, BFI London Film Festival)

THE GOOSE WOMAN, 1925 – 4:00 pm
Starring: Louise Dresser, Jack Pickford
Directed by: Clarence Brown
USA. 80 minutes, 35mm
Accompanied by: Stephen Horne

Directed by Clarence Brown, The Goose Woman depicts the tale of Mary Holmes, a former prima donna who tragically lost her singing voice. Bitter, alcoholic and destitute, Mary snatches on the murder committed next door as a last-ditch shot at revived fame. Brown displays a deft hand guiding the moments of comedy that periodically relieve the story’s dramatic tension. As Mary, Louise Dresser commands the picture with her astonishing transformation from disheveled harridan into a woman redeemed by the power of love. (S.K. Hill, UCLA)

MR. FIX-IT, 1918 — 6:30 pm
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Wanda Hawley
Directed by: Allan Dwan
USA. 65 minutes, 35mm. PREMIERE of this restoration.
Accompanied by: Dennis James
Goessel Family Fund Restoration, with assistance from the Silent Film Festival Preservation Fund
Restored print from George Eastman House

This sparkling 1918 romantic comedy from director Allan Dwan catches Douglas Fairbanks on the cusp of superstardom. Fairbanks stars as Remington, aka Mr. Fix-It, a happy-go-lucky American at Oxford. When he agrees to impersonate his school chum, who has been called back to the States by his starchy, upper-crust aunts, “Mr. Fix-It” finds himself headed into an arranged marriage and has to play matchmaker while untangling numerous romantic complications.

What begins as a genteel comedy-of-manners culminates in a fast-paced chase across tenement rooftops and down through the city streets, showcasing just the kind of physical derring-do that would soon make Fairbanks the biggest male movie star in the world. George Eastman House’s preservation of Mr. Fix-It began in the early 2000s using the only known copy of the film in existence. Like many U.S. silent films exported for international distribution, the original English language intertitles had been replaced with a foreign language translation. Thanks to generous funding provided by William and Nancy Goessel, the Goessel Family Foundation and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the film has been painstakingly restored to English and printed using the original typeface and design. After remaining virtually unseen for decades, Mr. Fix-It is once again ready for the big screen.

THE WOMAN MEN YEARN FOR, 1929 — 8:30
Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Kortner
Germany. 85 minutes, 35mm
Directed by: Kurt Bernhardt
Accompanied by: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

marlene-dietrich
MARLENE DIETRICH

Several years before Josef von Sternberg swathed her in leathers and feathers for Shanghai Express and The Devil is a Woman, and mere months before The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich gave a performance in The Woman Men Yearn For that looks completely recognizable in terms of her later films. In this intimate and tense story of a love triangle and hidden secrets, her charisma is in full flower, and she works her trademark stillness, economy, and intensity with all the centrality of a star. (R. Keser, Bright Lights Film Journal)

SUNDAY, JULY 17th

Amazing Tales from the Archives, Program II — 10:00 am
60 minutes
Featuring Kevin Brownlow on fifty years of film preservation and study.

SHOES, 1916 — Noon
Starring: Mary MacLaren, Harry Griffith
Directed by: Lois Weber
USA. 60 minutes, 35mm
Accompanied by: Dennis James

When she made Shoes in 1916, Lois Weber was the highest paid director at Universal, famous for her well-crafted, controversial, and highly popular films. She saw film not only as entertainment, but also as a means for exploring the important social issues of the time. Abortion, birth control, capital punishment, religious hypocrisy, the living wage, child labor, prostitution, and white slavery were all topics Weber addressed in her films. Released at the height of the social reform movement, Shoes takes a hard look at poverty and prostitution through the story of a young working girl’s struggle to provide for her family. As of 2008, the only known surviving copy of the film was a heavily deteriorated nitrate print. Thanks to a three-year restoration project at EYE Film Insituut Nederland, this new and important title from Weber’s canon re-emerges from the darkness for the first time in nearly a century.

THE NAIL IN THE BOOT, 1931 — 4:30 pm
Starring: Alexandre Shaliashvili, Siko Palavandishvili
USSR. 1931, 54 mins, 35mm
Directed by: Victor Sjöström
Accompanied by: Stephen Horne

the-nail-in-the-boot
THE NAIL IN THE BOOT, 1931

Made for the “Samkhedrofilmi” (Military Film) studio, Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Nail in the Boot was intended as a so-called defensive-military and agitprop film with the aim of ideologically educating the audience to oppose future enemies. A soldier cannot complete his mission to save a train because a nail in his boot injures his foot; he is court-martialed for it. The main accusation leveled against Kalatazov for this film was that of being carried away by formalistic pursuits and of destroying the logical narrative by ideological and other errors.

HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, 1924 — 7:30 pm
Starring: Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert
Directed by: Victor Sjöström
USA. 95 minutes, 35mm
Accompanied by: Matti Bye Ensemble

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LON CHANEY

norma-shearer-and-john-gilbert
NORMA SHEARER and JOHN GILBERT

MGM’s very first production assembled three major stars – Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, and John Gilbert, along with celebrated Swedish director Victor Sjöström – to film this script based on a Russian play. He Who Gets Slapped was a huge critical and popular success in 1924, putting the fledgling studio on the map. The story of a scientist whose betrayal leads him to a life in the circus features an indelible performance by Lon Chaney as the tragic, self-abasing clown.

Click here for ticket information: SILENT FILM FESTIVAL

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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  1. SHAWN MATHEY – To replace Topi Lehtipuu in SF Opera’s “Don Giovanni”, opening … | WORLDFESTIVALS - October 12, 2011

    [...] – At NCTC – Come On and Get A Faith LiftBRENDEN GUY — British Clarinetist In Concert, Jun 2ndSILENT FILM FESTIVAL – Opens Jul 14th with re-discovered film by John FordTHIS GUN FOR HIRE, 1942 – Looking during “Now we see it, now we don’t” sung by Veronica [...]