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!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chaplin Look-alike Contest!

The Little Tramp at 100: A Charlie Chaplin Centennial Celebration (January 11, 2014 at the Castro Theatre) won't only feature some of Chaplin's greatest films set to live music (Jon Mirsalis accompanying 3 hilarious Chaplin shorts from his time at Mutual; Timothy Brock conducting the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra for The Kid and The Gold Rush) but the chance to enter a Chaplin Look-alike contest and win prizes and acclaim!

Gossip columns in the 1920s were abuzz with a story that Chaplin himself entered and lost a Chaplin look-alike contest! Looking for verification, we came across this interesting website [skeptics] that investigates claims like these. We think CC would have won hands down!

We challenge you to don your best little tramp garb and come on down to the Castro Theatre on January 11! The contest starts at 4:00pm.

In case you need inspiration, here's a 1921 Charlie Chaplin Look-alike contest image from the Library of Congress:


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Silent Films Lost to Time

A recent article by the Huffington Post highlights the tremendous loss of silent films due to time and neglect. The Library of Congress conducted the first comprehensive survey of silent films over the past two years and found around 70% of silent films are believed to be lost. A database that represents the films listed in the survey can be found here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Friday, July 19, 2013

'Last Edition' screens again at SF Silent Film Fest

The one film locals won't want to miss at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival is The Last Edition, a 1925 independent production shot largely here in San Francisco. It's full of local scenes and local color and local interest, but is also a worthwhile film that stands on its own.

The Last Edition is one in a series of films directed by Emory Johnson (1890-1964), a San Francisco born actor who worked behind the camera throughout the 1920's. (His mother, Emilie, wrote the script.) Many of Johnson's films were set in the Bay Area, and all of them feature blue-collar protagonists such as policemen, printers, postal works, sailors, railroad engineers and baseball players. In The Last Edition, the lead character, played by veteran actor Ralph Lewis, is a pressman at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Many of the exteriors shots in The Last Edition were filmed in the heart of San Francisco. Market Street plays a prominent role in the film, while other scenes take place on recognizable blocks of Geary, Kearny, Bush, Gough, Powell and California streets. There are also views of several landmark buildings including City Hall, the Ferry Building, the original San Francisco Chronicle Building, and the then new Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Building. Also seen is the still intact front of the old Anglo California National Bank and the still extant Pickwick Hotel.

Key scenes were also shot inside the San Francisco Chronicle Building, where the workings of a printing plant from the mid-1920s are detailed by the camera. It's remarkable thing, in effect, to step-back in time and observe workers inside the composing and press room.

In its review of The Last Edition, the leading film journal of the time, Photoplay magazine penned this positive summary: "Emory Johnson, the glorifier of the underpaid wage earner, has again turned out an excellent and stirring story replete with thrills and heart interest. The story is woven around the difficulties that attend the printing of a daily newspaper. All the 'inside dope' is shown - from the telephone calls of the reporters to the actual distribution of the papers on the streets. This, in itself, should prove interesting to the average fan. Then for the excitement he has added some scheming grafters, a fire and an explosion. As a matter of fact there is everything in the picture for the amusement of an audience. Ralph Lewis is splendid as the foremen of the press room. Others in the cast are Frances Teague, Ray Hallor and Rex Lease. Take the whole family."

For years, The Last Edition was considered a lost film, as were many of Emory Johnson's directorial efforts. However, in April 2011 Bay Area film preservationist Rob Byrne (who serves as President of the SFSFF Board of Directors) learned that EYE Film Instituut Nederland, the Dutch national film archive, held an original nitrate print of The Last Edition in their collection. With the discovery of a lone surviving print, Byrne began his quest to preserve its fragile nitrate material and restore the film to the screen.

On Sunday, July 21 at 3:30 pm the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screens The Last Edition. It marks the film's first screening in nearly 83 years. Acclaimed musician Stephen Horne, who accompanied the Festival opener Prix de Beaute so brilliantly, will accompany the film on piano.

[The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on the film earlier. More about history and the restoration of The Last Edition can be found on a website devoted to the project.  Also, don't miss film historian John Bengtson's investigation of the film's identifiable shooting locations. ]

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2013 San Francisco Silent Film Festival opens this Thursday

Don't Get Left Behind!

Prix de Beauté


opens this Thursday and continues through Sunday!

Come see them all, or come see the films you know and love, or take a chance on one you've never heard of. We promise you won't be disappointed! The deck is stacked in your favor. And don't forget - everything is presented with incredible live music!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book and DVD signings at the 2013 schedule

Here is the list of authors and actor/directors signings books and DVDs at this year's festival. Their books and DVDs will be for sale on the mezzanine, or bring a copy of something you already own. Signings take place on the Castro Theater mezzanine.

After Prix de Beauté
- Kim Deitch - The Amazing, Enlightening And Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whale (Fantagraphics)

- Hugh Neely - Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu (DVD)

- Thomas Gladysz - The Diary of a Lost Girl "Louise Brooks edition" (PandorasBox Press)

After The Patsy
- Hugh Neely - Captured on Film - The True Story of Marion Davies (DVD)

- William Wellman Jr. - Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick - The Life and Times of William A. Wellman (DVD)

 - William Wellman Jr. - The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture (Praeger)

After Winsor McCay: His Life and Art
 - John Canemaker - Winsor McCay : His Life and Art (Abrams)
 - John Canemaker - Winsor McCay : Master Edition (Milestone DVD)

After Kings of (Silent) Comedy
- John Bengtson - Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin (Santa Monica Press)

After The Last Edition
- Scott O'Brien - Ruth Chatterton, Actress, Aviator, Author (BearManor Media)

- William Wellman Jr. - Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick - The Life and Times of William A.  Wellman (DVD)

- William Wellman Jr. - The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture (Praeger)

Before Safety Last!
- John Bengtson - Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd (Santa Monica Press)

- Suzanne Lloyd - various books and DVDs including Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian and the new  Safety Last! (DVD)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

LATE ADDITION to the 18th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival!

Beth Custer and Ken Winokur to perform on Sunday, July 21
before the screening of
THE WEAVERS at 6:00pm!

Ken Winokur of the Alloy Orchestra made an amazing discovery while the orchestra was traveling in the Ukraine—a two-minute trailer for Dziga Vertov's THE ELEVENTH YEAR, created by Aleksander Rodchenko!  As a special gift to San Francisco, he and Beth Custer will perform the World Premiere of their score accompanying Vertov's trailer. The 35mm print of THE ELEVENTH YEAR trailer is courtesy of EYE International, The Netherlands.

Winokur describes his find:
In May of this year, while traveling in the Ukraine with Alloy Orchestra, I had the great pleasure of visiting the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Centre (the Ukrainian National Film Archive). Located in a building that once, during the Soviet Era, housed a massive  film processing lab, the archive has rapidly developed into an impressive collection of films, particularly films of the Ukraine. The curators at the archive seem to have a special interest in silent films, and also run the Mute Nights, Silent Film festival, every June in Odessa Ukraine.
Shortly before leaving the archive, curator Stas Menzelevskyi, beckoned me to look at a film he had on his computer.  He explained that it was a trailer for the Dziga Vertov film THE ELEVENTH YEAR, and that it is believed to be animated and directed by Aleksander Rodchenko, a noted graphic designer and one of the founders of the Constructivist movement in the Soviet Union.

I was stunned! This 2 minute film is like nothing I have ever seen from the silent era. Swirling circles, and dancing stick figures—the film looks more like something from the summer of love in San Francisco than a film from the 1920s.

Upon returning the US, I started talking to SFSFF about showing this short gem. My colleague, Beth Custer of the Clubfoot Orchestra (who preceded Alloy in composing new scores for silent films), and I decided that we would collaborate on a score. We decided to do it as a duet using traditional instruments, found percussion and sampled background tapes. Once again the Dovzhenko Centre came to our aid, sending us a digital version of the film to work from, and permitting us to sample the music concrete score of Enthusiasm (Dziga Vertov's first sound film), which the Dovzhenko had recently released as a DVD.

So far, the reaction to this announcement has been almost riotous, as this image of those attempting to buy tickets shows. Don't be left out. Don't miss this special screening!

(Actually, it is a still from The Weavers, which follows the Vertov trailer.)