Friday, September 12, 2014

Introducing: Tales from the New Silent Office!

Hello, everyone! My name is Lucy Laird and I'm the new Silent Film Festival operations director.

As happy as I am to have joined the team a couple of weeks ago, I'm even happier to have jumped onboard just before we moved our office, in the process transforming this:

Into this:

Okay, I'll admit: So far this is the only corner of the new office that is so tidily organized. More pictures will follow as we get settled in, cleaned up, and pictures hung.

But in the meantime, take a moment to check out our new building, the Ninth Street Independent Film Center, which is chock-full of fellow independent media nonprofits. We feel right at home.

And don't forget to get your tickets to Silent Autumn next weekend!

Signing off for now, and closing the door to our old office in the Bong Building for the last time...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Sale at Milestone!

Our friends at Milestone are holding a summer silent cinema celebration that ends this Sunday, August 31! DVDs from their wonderful library of silent classics are going for $10 each! And if you buy 10 DVDs, they'll throw in an additional two bonus titles!

Don't miss this fabulous sale!

Visit their site here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Historic Phantom Set

Brandee Cox, author of The Silent Treatment newsletter, alerted us to this petition—an effort to save Universal's historic Stage 28, originally built in 1924 for The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney.

A bit of history about Stage 28 can be found at

Thursday, July 3, 2014

MOSTLY LOST 3 at the Library of Congress

If you happen to find yourself in the nation's capital in July, you can take advantage of more than the balmy weather. The Library of Congress's Packard Campus is hosting MOSTLY LOST 3, a cinematic treasure hunt! Here's the scoop:

Silent Film Archaeology III: A Film-Identification Workshop

Archivists, scholars and silent-film buffs will participate in a kind of cinematic treasure hunt for three days in July. The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation is inviting a cadre of film detectives to attend a free workshop, "Mostly Lost," to screen and identify silent and early sound films that have been unidentified, under-identified or misidentified, Thursday, July 17 through Saturday, July 19.
The third in an ongoing series, the workshop will tap the collective knowledge of the participants to obtain as much information as possible about the unknown or little-known films. During the screenings, attendees are encouraged to talk in the theater, calling out names of actors, locations, car models, production companies or anything else they recognize about each film.
All genres of films will be shown, including comedies, dramas and actuality films. Ben Model, Andrew Simpson, and Philip Carli will provide live musical accompaniment during the workshop and evening presentations of newly preserved silent films.
The workshop will feature unidentified films from the Library’s collections as well as from other archives, including the George Eastman House, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, EYE Film Instituut Nederland in Amsterdam, Royal Belgian Filmarchive, USC SCA Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, Lobster Film Archive and the Newsfilm Library at the University of South Carolina.
Ninety-five reels of film were screened at the first workshop in 2012. Of those, 38 films—40 percent—were identified during the event. Following the inaugural workshop, another 15 titles screened there were able to be identified. The second workshop showcased 109 films and of those, 48 films—44 percent—have been identified so far.
Daytime events are open only to registered workshop participants; register at The deadline for registration is Tuesday, July 1. For more information, email and
The regular evening screenings on July 17 and 18 at the Packard Campus are free. There is a $6 admission charge for the July 19 evening screening at the State Theatre. All evening screenings are open to the general public. In case of inclement weather, call the theater reservation line no more than three hours before showtime to verify status. For further information on the theater and film schedule, visit

The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation is a state-of-the-art facility funded as a gift to the nation by the Packard Humanities Institute. The Packard Campus is the site where the nation’s library acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of motion pictures, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings ( The Packard Campus is home to more than 7 million collection items. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at
For more information go to Mostly Lost 3

THE GOOD BAD MAN locations then and now

Film scholar Hugh Neely has done some amazing research about the locations from The Good Bad Man (the restoration of this 1916 Douglas Fairbanks picture showed at our festival in May). Neely has gone to the exact locations of a dozen shots from the film and photographed from the same camera angle. At the end are two animated GIFs that dissolve from the film frame to the 2014 location.
The entire film was shot in the town of Mojave, California (established 1876) and at an idle 1890's mining camp located approximately 3.5 miles south/southwest of Mojave. 
The main street of the town, then called  J Street, now known as Sierra Highway is the location for most of the town shots.  The "Resort Cafe," the sign of which is prominently visible in a number of shots, was a real business. It doesn't appear that the production team bothered to change any names or build any sets...they simply used what was available to them. The Resort Cafe was located on the east side of J Street between Panamint Street (behind the camera) and Inyo Street (located between a store with a sign that says "SHOES" and a brick building (built in 1899...which still stands) with a sign that reads "Corner Cafe."

I spoke with Patty Gardner, a lovely woman who appears to be in her 80s, and who owns the building that was once the Corner Cafe. It is now a real estate office. She readily recognized her building when I showed her the picture above, and told me the story of how and why the original facade was altered and the fancy brick work was stucco'd over back in the 1970s.

In addition to several wide shots on J Street, like the one above, all facing north, there is a reverse angle that appears to have been taken from just inside the "Shoes" store. This angle shows the Mojave train depot and Harvey House (hotel and lunchroom). It also shows the highly identifiable outline of Soledad Mountain in the distance, just to the right of the building:

The outline of this mountain proved instrumental in identifying other locations The train depot/hotel/lunchroom, by the way, was the fourth building built for that purpose over just a few years. Both the depot and the town burned repeatedly in the 1880s and '90s.

Here, for example is another shot in which the highly recognizable outline of Soledad Mountain is visible:

Whenever you see this mountain (which is located approximately five miles south/southeast of town) you know you are looking south. So if the shadows fall on the right of an object, as they do in this picture, then the shot was made in the morning. If the shadows fall to the left, the shot was made in the afternoon. 

Back in town, there is a shot that takes place in front of the post office. This appears to have been made in the block north of the establishing shots mentioned earlier. There is also a shot of a lone horseman, made on L Street, two blocks to the east, between Inyo Street and Cerro Gordo Street. At least four of the buildings visible in this shot survive, including the church, and a fifth one was re-built in substantially the same footprint and roof line:

You can't see these buildings when a photo is taken from this angle today, as there are too many trees obscuring the view.  But here's the church, now with a different steeple.  Though the front of the building has changed, the first window visible matches with a blow-up of the previous shot, and the building is still roofed in corrugated metal (!!):

For sequences at Pappy's Cabin and the Wolf's Lair, the production moved three and a half miles south to the Exposed Treasure Mine on Standard Butte. This was the site of the very first gold strike in East Kern County, which took place in 1894. The Exposed Treasure mine had, prior to 1907 been one of the most productive gold mines in California, but my the following decade the most easily accessible veins had played out, and the mine was idle. There were still plenty of buildings available to the film crew, however. Care was clearly taken NOT to include the mine shaft head frames or stamp mill in any of the shots, as mining did not figure in The Good Bad Man script. 
Here's happy Doug in front of the small double-butte. The background is obvious. The foreground is not quite right. To get the foreground right, I needed to back up a bit, and then there was such a lot of mine ruins, trash and trees in the way, that you could no longer see the buttes properly. So I compromised by moving my camera position closer to the buttes than where the original camera position would likely have been.

This image was made on the south side of Standard Butte, facing the original shot was clearly made in the early morning.

And here, a comparison shot of Soledad Mountain animated.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ben Hur and the Police man

On April 19, the Virginia Arts Festival presented the World Premiere of Stewart Copeland’s (The Police) score for an edited version of the 1925 silent epic Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (d. Fred Niblo, with Ramon Novarro, Francis X. Bushman, May McAvoy). Copeland performed the score live accompanied by the Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra. This YouTube video will give you a taste of the project.

Beyond Zero: 1914–1918

Cal Performances presented an amazing program in early April at Hertz Hall on the Berkeley campus that brought together three extraordinary world artists to commemorate the conflict that launched a century of war—World War I. Kronos Quartet, Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, and filmmaker Bill Morrison created Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, a work that blends film—Morrison’s stunning assemblage of rare nitrate footage from the Great War—and music. The Kronos Quartet’s Prelude to the Black Hole, an exploration of contemporaneous music from Charles Ives to Igor Stravinsky, Anton Webern, etc., set the stage for Vrebalov’s exquisite composition that draws inspiration from antiwar writings, music, and art of the time.

World War I dogfight footage used in Bill Morrison's film
As we head into this anniversary year, Vrebalov’s thoughts on composing the score for Beyond Zero resonate: “Unlike official histories that have often romanticized and glorified the war, artists have typically been the keepers of sanity, showing the war in its brutality, destruction, and ugliness. From many, across history, creating art in those circumstances served as a survival mechanism.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

  Rudolph Valentino
The 19th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival Program is now online at  
Some highlights:
Opening Night Thursday, May 29. A commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Great War with one of the greats of all time, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the film that made Valentino VALENTINO! Accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra who started life as Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra 25 years ago! We look forward to their take on
Four Horsemen's scintillating tango sequence.

The 2014 Silent Film Festival Award goes to the BFI National Film Archive. Archivist Bryony Dixon will accept the award at the Saturday afternoon screening of BFI's brilliant restoration of The Epic of Everest, the official film record of Mallory and Irvine's attempt to scale Everest. Two other treasures from BFI's vaults will grace the screen at Festival 2014: Anthony Asquith's Underground and Maurice Elvey's Sherlock Holmes feature The Sign of Four!

Amazing Tales From the Archives returns with more amazements! Bryony Dixon, Dan Streible, Craig Barron and Ben Burtt will take us on a fascinating illustrated tour of early cinema.

Preservationist and showman Serge Bromberg will share a selection from his vault of wonders, including the newly discovered version of Keaton's The Blacksmith. More shall be revealed in the program Serge Bromberg's Treasure Trove!

Once lost, now found: Ramona, a California story starring Dolores Del Rio was recently restored from materials found in the Czech National Archive. The torrid melodrama Midnight Madness was repatriated from New Zealand and preserved as part of the Save America's Treasures initiative. Our very own restoration project, The Good Bad Man with dashing Douglas Fairbanks will have its world premiere at the festival!

We have a cross-dressing Swedish comedy (directed by a woman!), The Girl in Tails; the first Chinese film to win an international award, The Song of the Fishermen; films by cinema heroes Ozu (Dragnet Girl), Dreyer (The Parson's Widow) and Keaton (The Navigator).  

Not to mention, the element that elevates the San Francisco Silent Film Festival into the realm of pure enchantment: live musical accompaniment. We are thrilled to host these dazzling musicians: Frank Bockius, Guenter Buchwald, Stephen Horne, Matti Bye Ensemble, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Donald Sosin.

Ever wonder what goes into the creation of a silent movie score? On Tuesday evening, May 27 the Matti Bye Ensemble will be at the magical event space Salle Pianos at 1632 Market Street for our intimate musical program, Variations on a Theme. Watch our website for more details coming soon!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Limited Edition Posters Honoring "The Little Tramp at 100"!

Local Artist Wayne Shellabarger has designed some gorgeous silkscreened posters for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in honor of the Charlie Chaplin program "The Little Tramp at 100." These posters are signed and numbered as part of a limited edition series - the perfect memento to celebrate 100 years of this master comedian. They'll be available during the event, so drop by the mezzanine while you're at the Castro Theatre tomorrow and check these beauties out!

Monday, January 6, 2014

For Your Reading Pleasure: Chaplin Link Roundup

With the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's program "The Little Tramp at 100: A Charlie Chaplin Centennial Celebration" coming up this Saturday at the Castro Theatre, it's the perfect time to read a bit more about Chaplin before you head down to the show. And you're in luck: I have loads of links to keep you busy from now until the curtain rises on January 11. Let's roll!

First up is a wonderful piece from our friend John Bengston, author of Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin. In this article on his site Silent Locations, he gives us a peek into Chaplin's first appearance as The Little Tramp in Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), and uncovers just what, exactly, "kid auto races" were.

Three more links from Silent Locations cover different filming locations for The Kid (1921), which the SFSFF will be screening on Saturday. So while you're watching "The Tramp" first discover "The Kid", or that poignant ending, or various other scenes along the way, you'll be able to nudge your friends and say "I know where that was filmed!"

The Charlie Chaplin official website has a wealth of great articles on Chaplin, including pieces on the filming of The Kid (1921) and The Gold Rush (1925), as well Chaplin's time at Mutual where he filmed Easy Street (1917), The Cure (1917), and The Vagabond (1916). These will all be featured on Saturday, so it's a great chance to get plenty of background information before the show.

One of my very favorite Chaplin-related blogs is Discovering Chaplin. Jessica, who runs the site, is a long-time Chaplin enthusiast with a glorious collection of images and a lot to say. Definitely worth a visit!

And if Tumblr is more your speed, check out Charlie Chaplin is For the Ages, a very fun site run by an ardent fan of Chaplin. She's been posting for a long time now, so there's a lot to enjoy over there!

Hope you have a good time perusing these, and if you have any favorites of your own, please share them in the comments. See you this weekend!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oona O'Neill Chaplin: "He is my World, I've Never Seen or Lived Anything Else"

When trying to understand a man like Charlie Chaplin, we'd be remiss if we didn't take the time to get to know the women in his life. And of all the many (many, many) women Chaplin was romantically involved with over the years, surely Oona O'Neill Chaplin stands out as one of the most important and fascinating of them all.

Oona O'Neill was no stranger to the complexities of life. As the daughter of famed playwright Eugene O'Neill and writer Agnes Boulton, her background was one of outward privilege and private tumult. Her parents' marriage was plagued by infidelity and alcoholism, and they divorced when she was four years old. Eugene O'Neill married his mistress less than a month later; Oona seldom heard from him after that.

As a teenager, O'Neill attended the prestigious Brearley School in New York City. She was a regular fixture at local nightclubs like the Stork Club and the El Morocco, where she hung out with a popular crowd that included such notables as Gloria Vanderbilt, J.D. Salinger, Carol Grace, and Truman Capote (Holly Golightly is sometimes rumored to be partly based on Oona.) She began acting in summer stock productions as well, and when the time came to go to college, she decided to make the trip to Hollywood instead.

The 53-year-old Chaplin met O'Neill while casting for Shadow and Substance, a successful Broadway play he hoped to turn into a film. At 17, he initially felt she was a bit too young for the part. But she was not too young, it seems, to capture his interest. As he recalled later: "...I was confident that she was not subject to the caprices of [her] age. Oona was the exception to the rule - though at first I was afraid of the discrepancy in our ages."

O'Neill and Chaplin married soon after her 18th birthday in 1943, and her father disowned her immediately after. Chaplin had been married three times before -- always to actresses -- and the subsequent divorces had often led to public scandal. In Oona, however, he had finally found his match. "Soon after we married Oona had confessed she had no desire to become an actress either on the screen or the stage," he wrote in his autobiography. "This news pleased me, for at last I had a wife and not a career girl."

Chaplin remained married to Oona for the rest of his life. She stayed by his side through a messy public paternity trial in 1943, his persecution by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the late 1940s, and the government's refusal to allow him re-entry to the United States in 1952. After Chaplin was banned from re-entering the U.S., Oona moved with him to Vevey, Switzerland, renouncing her own U.S. citizenship in favor of his British one. They raised their eight children there together.

After Chaplin's death in 1977, Oona lived a life of quiet and seclusion in Switzerland and New York until her own death in 1991. They are buried together in Vevey.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Greetings and Salutations

Hello everyone!

As a new writer for the SF Silent Film Festival blog, I want to take a few moments to introduce myself.

My name is Charissa Gilreath, and I interned with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival during 2013. As an intern, I saw firsthand all of the hard work that goes into putting together such a marvelous event, not just during the weeks surrounding the festival but all year long. I also made some lifelong friends, attended some great parties, and saw a lot of fabulous silents as they were meant to be seen -- up on the big screen with an enthusiastic audience and live musical accompaniment. And now that my internship has ended, I'll be writing for this blog and sharing my love of silent film with you.

We may have crossed paths before. During my internship I handled much of the social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest) for the festival and composed many of the slides for the Hitchcock 9. Prior to that, I maintained a popular silent-themed photo blog. I've also been a collector of vintage silent era magazines, photos and scrapbooks for several years, and hope to continue that for as long as my limited storage space allows!

There's always more to learn about the silent era, and more information and context can enhance the experience of watching a film. My hope is to share my enthusiasm and research with you all, get excited over new discoveries, and have fun. I want to learn from you and hear about your interests too, so comments are always encouraged. Nice to meet you, and happy holidays!