The San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2017 Recap Part 2
|Obligatory Marquee Photo|
June 2 Continued
After the Amazing Tales from the Archives (no lie they were amazing), we started off with Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in a 1927 Paramount feature Get Your Man.
|Jumbo lobby card for Get Your Man|
This was the last of six films Clara made in 1927 (her year started out with the monster hit It). It is no wonder that poor Clara was worn out from her film career, she made a huge number of films in very short span (15 in 1925 alone). Get Your Man was released in December 1927 to positive reviews. The plot might have been a bit thin, but, the film directed by the able Dorothy Arzner, allowed Clara to sparkle and shine like the diamond she was. Buddy Rogers shows off his natural charm and did not have much to do. They would be paired later in William Wellman's epic Wings. Josef Swickard and Harvey Clark provide some comic relief; Josef being Buddy's father and Harvey being the victim smitten with Clara's charms (used to resolve the romantic conflicts). It was nice to see Swickard in a role that shows some lightness and comedy.
Get Your Man does not survive in complete form, so the missing portion of the film was filled out with still photos and explanatory title cards. The illustrating lobby card above is from the missing footage in the wax museum. Sadly there is also a bit of nitrate decomposition, tragically in the final frames obscuring the happy ending. It's fluff, much as Woman of the World was when it screened last year, but, there is not a single thing wrong with fluff. Stephen Horne provided the jaunty accompaniment.
|Louise Brooks in a lobby card from the film|
Get Your Man was preceded by a 23 minute fragment from Now We're in the Air a lost comedy film starring Wallace Beery, Raymond Hatton and Louise Brooks (who had a dual role). The source of this fragment was in the Czech Národní filmový archive (thanks to a tip from Kevin Brownlow in the right ear). The footage was restored just in time for the festival and had its re-premiere. Of course, silent icon Louise Brooks was the focus of real interest in this film fragment, not the other two stars Beery and Hatton. Of the three sections that remain, Brooks was seen in only one segment. Her presence is hard to stray your eyes away from, she looked fetching in her costume and role as the French circus performer.
|Louise Brooks as Grisette in Now We're in the Air.|
With so little film remaining, one cannot really review it. The broad comedy of Beery and Hatton does not appeal to me. It is a fascinating look at a still missing film, one hopes that another discovery might reveal Brooks in her alternate role as Griselle. It was nice to see and your could really feel the frisson of excitement in the audience when Louise Brooks came alive on the screen.
Next up was a film I was very much looking forward to, The Dumb Girl of Portici starring Anna Pavlova and directed by Lois Weber. I've wanted to see this film for decades. Pavlova was one of the greatest Prima Ballerinas to travel to worldwide fame from Imperial Russia. Like other great stars of the stage and theater, film beckoned. Like Nazimova, Pavlova surrendered to the siren call for this film. Unlike Nazimova, Pavlova made only one film (not counting the short films of her famous Dying Swan ballet).
|Anna Pavlova as Fenella and the horrors of the rebellion.|
The Dumb Girl of Portici came about halfway through Lois Weber's varied and prolific career. Better remembered for her socially conscious films like Where are My Children?, Shoes and The Blot, this film is very much a big budget epic. Produced for the more prestigious branch as a Bluebird Special at Universal, you can see that plenty of money was spent. Due to Pavlova's schedule, the film was shot both in Chicago (at extant structures from the 1893 Worlds Fair) and at Universal City, excellent location spotter John Bentgson quickly identified the Castle Sans Souci as one of the locations used in the film (portions of Tillie's Punctured Romance were filmed there). Fenella's cottage/village was set up on the beach in Santa Monica.
The print quality varied in some spots and the blowup from 16mm to 35 was really obvious. The reconstruction was lovely, the tinting great. Honestly, the film could have used some extra cutting. I get it was an epic, but, battle scenes ran nearly 30 minutes. Pavlova was touching as Fenella, Douglas Gerrard (best known to me as one of Rudolph Valentino's close friends) was a hair stiff as Alphonso, Fenella's love interest (i.e., he was a cad) and future director at Universal Rupert Julian as Masaniello, Fenella's brother. It was a pleasure to spot an uncredited Nigel de Brulier as the local priest. Much like Charles Lane and Gustav von Seyffertitz, spotting any of these guys in films would make a good drinking game.
Made in the same year as Shoes, I found much of the acting over emphatic and Delsartian for 1916. A good example is in the crowd scenes, which funnily enough, reminded me of acting in the finale of Her First Biscuits (1909) which a certain Gladys Smith made her screen debut. Unlike the above mentioned Shoes, which was very restrained in comparison, this film took the operatic approach. It was an odd stylistic choice that would have made more sense a few years earlier. Of course, for Pavlova it did make perfect sense in the balletic mime style of acting. That said this made the film much less sophisticated. Cinematicaly, there were some lovely tracking shots, the one toward the end of the film that would have made Clarence Brown proud. Pavlova was touching in her role and this was certainly worth waiting 30+ years to see. Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius provided a wonderful idiomatic score, using some themes from Auber (at least I thought I heard some Auber in there).
|Lois Weber, Douglas Gerrard (not in full makeup), Anna Pavlova |
cameraman Phillips Smalley during filming The Dumb Girl of Portici
I skipped Body and Soul to attend a group dinner and I have not heard any reports on DJ Spooky, but, I will bet it was just fine. I also made the choice to go home and make it an early night and save my viewing of The Informer at home via a BFI blu-ray. I got plenty of flak from my British contingent, and I cannot blame them a bit. Mea Culpa
The program entitled MAGIC AND MIRTH: A Collection of Enchanting Short Films, 1906–1924
was a tribute to film preservationist and collector David Shepard hosted/presented by Lobster Films founder Serge Bromberg. Shepard was, I think a friend and colleague to anyone who worked on saving films. His work with Flicker Alley and Bromberg's Lobster Films being the most recent. It was entirely fitting that Serge Bromberg was the man on stage paying tribute to his friend.
The films shown were favorites of David's and we started with a jewel that brought tears to this viewers eyes, footage discovered in David's storage container, color home movies of a very recognizable lad who grew up to be the best friend of films, the man himself. The smile so apparent in photos of David through the weekend, visible and immediately recognizable in this young boy.
We were treated to the hilarious THOSE AWFUL HATS (USA, 1909, d. D.W. Griffith), a wonderful Koko the Clown CARTOON FACTORY (USA, 1924, p. Fleischer Studios), an early Chaplin appearance in THE MASQUERADER (USA, 1914, d. Charlie Chaplin), the completely hysterically funny FIRST PRIZE FOR CELLO PLAYING (France, 1907, p. Pathé Frères) (with hilarious accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius), FANTASMAGORIE (France, 1908, d. Émile Cohl), the ironic TIT FOR TAT (France, 1906, d. Gaston Velle), the surreal WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES (UK, 1907, d. Walter Booth), DOWN IN THE DEEP (France, 1906, d. Ferdinand Zecca), the always horrifying THE DANCING PIG (France, 1907, p. Pathé Frères), and closing with Serge narrating a simply gorgeous print of THE WITCH (France, 1906, d. Georges Méliès). Serge's narration was highlighted by his French accent and wry sense of humor. The audience was howling. This film was very special as it was a close to a camera negative of a Melies film as we are ever to see. It was amazing and the color was fantastic. It was a fitting and loving tribute to a man who will be much missed. So, I did actually watch The Dancing Pig, hopefully it was for the last time. I live and hope that someone will screen the wonderful 1908 Vitagraph The Thieving Hand. (hint hint).
A Strong Man (Mocnyczlowiek) was introduced by Eddie Muller as a proto-noir. I felt it drew more on German expressionism than noir, but, ymmv. I very much enjoyed the performance of Agnes Kuck and would love to see more of her, IMDB only lists this film. Hopefully if there are more films in which she appears, someone might help me find out about them. Gregori Chmara was a little overwrought and the guilt ridden thief. Artur Socha was wonderful in his brief scenes as the dying author, tricked into suicide by his treacherous friend. The ending was fabulously surreal with the actors on the stage all wearing two-faced masks. The real discovery for me with this film was the director Henryk Szaro, I would love to see more of his films. His is another tragic name of a lost life and career, he died in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 at the age of 41. Guenter Buchwald and Sascha Jacobsen provided the idiomatic accompaniment.
Filibus was fabulous fun. Produced by the very short lived Corona Films of Turin, it starred the wonderful (new to me) Cristina Ruspoli in a triple-role, the Countessa, in drag as the Count de la Brive and as Filibus the mastermind thief. There was a wry, tongue in cheek to the whole affair that captured me immediately. This was chiefly due to the variety and lightness of Ruspoli, she had qualities that reminded me of Ossi Oswalda; more about her later. There was a level of sophistication, in not taking the whole plot too seriously and having some fun with the whole premise than made this a hit for me. After all, female mastermind, an airship with a "cabin" that looked more like a steampunk bucket (which was surprisingly invisible no matter when and where it descended from), cross-dressing and the master thief still outwitting the police, a delightful bonbon. Others I spoke to were not nearly as enamored of Filibus as I was. Supported by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, this moved along at a lightening pace and I enjoyed it 100%. I hope this makes it to DVD, I'd love to see it again. Filibus is on YouTube, but, this deserves better. Note to self, check out the 1913 Spartacus which has Cristina Ruspoli in the cast.
I missed the last films on Saturday making it an early night for Sunday was to be a start to finish day, a long day.
I had it on good authority that in Outside the Law it was not appreciably different from versions I have already seen. I do regret missing Battleship Potemkin, it's been 30 years since I've seen it.
A Page of Madness was also a miss, being the final film of the night. Happily this is available so I can see it eventually. Just not at the glorious Castro Theater.
Sunday June 4:
Sunday could not have gotten off to a better start than with a confection by Ernst Lubisch Die Puppe (The Doll) starring Ossi Oswalda. I am a HUGE fan of Ossi Oswalda, billed as the Mary Pickford of Germany, she did share some of Pickford's hoydenish qualities. I think she had much in common with Dorothy Gish, too. The film begins with a cameo by the director, building the set for the film. It is entirely a fantasy as the backgrounds are very cartoonish. Herman Thiming is hilarious as the reticent bridegroom Lancelot, Ossi Oswalda is delightful in her dual role as Ossi the daughter and the mechanical doll. There was so much comedy, I was chuckling throughout the film, from the apprentice, to the dollmaker and the group of gluttonous priests. It was totally marvelous and a great way to get the day going. Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius supported the film with a ribald and naughty score.
|Ossi Oswalda as Ossi (left) and The Doll (right)|
Next up was the long anticipated Rupert Julian directed, Cecil B. De Mille produced Silence. I'm a big fan of H.B. Warner so I was hoping he would shine in this film, and he does. The opening of the film is the strongest section, intercutting between the pacing and increasingly tense Jim Warren (Warner) awaiting execution and the men building the gallows hammering and the ticking of the clock with the swinging pendulum and noose. The tension building along with the support from The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The plot of the film is fragmented thanks to a missing subplot, and is very clearly based on a stage play. Nevertheless, it held my interest. Warner being the focus point in a long scene with his young daughter. Vera Reynolds has a dual role as mother and daughter. Jack Mulhall seems to have mostly ended up on the cutting room floor, and Raymond Hatton (seen earlier in the comedy Now We're in the Air) is perfect as a seedy extortionist. Silence is not a great film, but, it was good to see.
|My 10 seconds of fame|
Victor Sjöström was actor and director in the 1917 film Terje Vigen/A Man There Was. It was a beautiful film, Sjöström was a fantastic actor as well as director. The film had the epic sea, but, it was a very intimate film. slow moving and still I was rapt. Musical support by The Matti Bye Ensemble did not enhance the film for me, it did for others. I just have to confess, their very low-key accompaniment generally makes me fight sleep every time I hear them. The dull scoring with the odd ticks of what sounds like static and pops and clicks from LPs and meandering music just bore the pants off me, figuratively speaking. Others love them, but for me, it is an ever constant battle to tune them out and watch the film with my own internal soundtrack.
Serge Bromberg was back to introduce and tell the story of the newest, latest and greatest restoration of the 1925 epic film The Lost World. The film has been available for years in various states of incompleteness thanks to nearly all of the film negative and prints being destroyed prior to the 1933 release of Willis O'Brien, Merian C. Cooper epic King Kong. It's taken decades of detective work to piece the film back together to a more complete narrative whole. Happily, this is about the very best we will be able to see the film, and it was an exciting adventure.
|Wallace Beery, Bessie Love and Lewis Stone in a lobby card from The Lost World|
Willis O'Brien's creature modeling is the real star of this film. Like the later modeled King Kong, the best actor on screen is the trapped brontosaurus. His plight is truly heart wrenching, which was amplified and intensified by Alloy Orchestra's scoring and sound effects. You might say he was a better actor than some of the humans in the film! It was great to see on the big screen along with some really wonderful improved film elements including the great Tyrannosaurus Rex colored with the Handschiegl color process. The restoration of the film is soon to be available for home viewing on DVD/Blu-Ray from Flicker Alley. If you are a sci-fi fan, it is a must have.
Set during the 1917–21 Civil War in Ukraine, Two Days tells the story of a faithful servant, Anton, who remains behind to guard the master’s mansion as the family flees the approaching Bolsheviks. I did like this film, but, it started out very badly and I never quite recovered from it. You see, they killed a puppy in the first minutes, literally the filmmakers killed a dog on screen. As an animal lover, this made me ill and heartsick. The story arc and irony of a loyal servant who was ordered to protect his masters property who then in the course of the story is betrayed by the boy he saved, loses his own son for the second time and then in anger and grief burns the home (and everyone in it) to the ground in the end was pretty good as a wrap up. Everyone dies in this film, but, my heart broke for that poor innocent puppy a lot more than any of the human drama. Stephen Horne's accompaniment was top notch, as usual. It was quite a downer, which was soon forgotten with the final film of the weekend.
|A gorgeous 1-sheet poster (courtesy Tracey Goessel)|
The festival closer was a brand new restoration of Douglas Fairbanks's The Three Musketeers. The restoration is a joint effort of The Museum of Modern Art, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival and help from Film Preservation Society and full credit needs to go to SFSFF President Rob Byrne for the "sweat equity" in doing the restoration work. Now, believe it or not, I had never seen The Three Musketeers. I can only say I am so happy I waited and left the DVD that has long been on the shelf, on the shelf. This has to be one of the prettiest prints ever, thanks to Douglas Fairbanks donating his films, negative and outtakes to the Museum of Modern Art.
This was a really fine telling of the Dumas tale. Doug was Doug, but not in the big expressive expressionistic Doug of, for example, The Thief of Bagdad. There was a wry, in on the joke, Doug that was only a little over the top, in keeping with the clumsy country boy d'Artagnan was. The film was directed by journeyman Fred Niblo, there was nary a camera movement. That did not matter as Doug provided endless movement. Marguerite de la Motte was Constance, Mary MacLaren was Queen Anne, Barbara La Marr as Milady de Winter, Adolph Menjou got to wear very pretty costumes as King Louis, Nigel de Brulier was a creepy and cadaverous Cardinal Richlieu. Leon Bary was Athos, D.W. Griffith alumnus George Siegmann was Porthos and film buffs might be surprised to see a moderately thin Eugene Pallette as Aramis. Pallette was also a Griffith alumnus, seen at the S.F. Silent Film Festival several years back in the 1916 Gretchen the Greenhorn with Dorothy Gish.
This film is long, but, it never dragged and never felt long. The music also buoyed the film, it was action packed and very true to the Dumas original. Fairbanks was a favorite and an inspiration to dancer Gene Kelly, who later donned feathered cap and sword of d'Artagnan in the 1948 MGM glossy remake (not a better film, either).
It was a glorious end to the Festival. Douglas Fairbanks was a pioneer and a terrific producer as this newly restored film attests. If you get a chance to see it, do not miss it as you will be treated to a really fun, funny film in the best print possible. As it was meant to be seen.
The terrific music score was by Guenter Buchwald Ensemble. they really rocked the house with special addition to the group of Donald Sosin on the virtual harpshichord (and other magical instruments).
Thank you SFSFF for a exhausting and exhilarating weekend of films. Mark your calendars for December 2 for their Day of Silents.
To read some other opinions of the films and festival, please visit my friends, Mary Mallory over at The Daily Mirror, Camille over at Brooksie's Silent Film Collection; Thomas Gladysz over at The Louise Brooks Society and Huffington Post; Pamela Hutchinson visiting from London (who really MISSED The Three Musketeers, for shame) over at Silent London; Brian Darr at Hell on Frisco Bay; and Beth Ann at Spellbound by the Movies.
Now that the festival is over, I get to read the excellent essays as I like to go into the films I have not seen cold. Besides, it is very hard to read them in the dark of the Castro.