Thursday, October 23, 2014

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto Wrap-Up

Pordenone SFF organizers, SFSFF staffers, and silent film accompanists at the festival wrap party: Guenter Buchwald (musician), Phil Carli (musician), Livio Jacob (Founding President, Giornate del Cinema Muto), Piera Patat (Founder, Giornate del Cinema Muto), Rob Byrne (Board President, SFSFF), David Robinson (Founding Director, Giornate del Cinema Muto), Federica Dini (Organization Coordinator, Giornate del Cinema Muto), Anita Monga (Artistic Director, SFSFF), Stacey Wisnia (Executive Director, SFSFF), Max Mestroni (Hospitality Director, Giornate del Cinema Muto), Russell Merritt (Board Member, SFSFF)
It's been a week and a half since the 33rd Giornate del Cinema Muto wrapped up, and before the high completely fades, we'd like to thank the indomitable organizers—some of whom are pictured above—who create and sustain this vital celebration of early film: Grazie mille!

And lest we forget to toot our own horn: Did you know two of SFSFF's joint restorations screened at Pordenone this year? Pamela Hutchinson, of the blog Silent London (and a "traditional" journalist, too), writes of The Last Edition (SFSFF 2013):
All stonking if rather rough and ready and a fantastic picture of San Francisco in the 1920s too. I have no earthly idea why they needed to jazz up all this fascinating typesetting material with a plot involving gangsters, corruption and a massive fire at the newspaper office, but I may be slightly biased.
And The Good Bad Man (SFSFF 2014) played, too: "a western," according to Hutchinson, "that went about its business as swift and straight as an arrow...[with] kudos to London-based musician David Gray who accompanied the movie with verve and accuracy."

Get the rest of Hutchinson's daily Pordenone run-downs here.

And maybe we'll see you next year at the 34th Giornate del Cinema Muto, October 3–10, 2015. Save the date!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Silent Georgian Cinema at the Pacific Film Archive

Salt for Svanetia (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1930)
Our friends at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive have teamed up with New York's Museum of Modern Art to present the largest retrospective and touring program of Georgian cinema ever mounted in North America. Spanning 100 years of filmmaking, this series includes several silent-era films with, of course, live music! PFA's principal accompanist, pianist Judith Rosenberg, will play, and BAM/PFA has commissioned a new score from composer Carl Linich for Eliso (Nikoloz Shengelaia, 1928), which will be performed by Trio Kavkasia, a vocal ensemble specializing in traditional vocal music from the Republic of Georgia.

The series started at the end of September, and has delights running through spring 2015. Download the brochure, watch the trailer below, and buy your tickets now!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Queueing, Viewing, Dining, and Duetting in Pordenone

Stacey and Anita may not have defeated their jet lag yet (as evidenced by the emails they've been sending at 2:15 am Italy time), but they've certainly been making the most of their trip to the 33rd Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

Queueing up under grey skies at the Verdi Theatre to see Fritz Lang's two-part Nordic fantasy masterpiece Die Nibelungen (all 275 minutes of it!):

Wondering what that rounded theater façade holds within?

Finally—a late dinner with friends and colleagues:

Matti Bye, Donald Sosin, Daniela Currò (George Eastman House), Jonathan Marlow (Fandor), Stephen Horne, Martin Koerber (Deutsche Kinemathek), Stacey Wisnia
Topped off with a duet from two of our favorite silent film accompanists, Donald Sosin and Stephen Horne, aka The Rollicking Rajahs! (You may recall this tune from our recent Silent Autumn screening of A Night at the Cinema in 1914.)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tales from the Silent Office: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto

Still from When a Man Loves, Alan Crosland, 1927. (George Eastman House)
Tomorrow, most of the Silent Office will fly off to Italy for THE silent film event of the year: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, or the Pordenone Silent Film Festival!

It's simply "Pordenone" to those in the know, the academics, archivists, collectors, musicians, critics, and cinephiles of every stripe who gather in the Verdi theatre each October for a week of screenings, scholarship, and connection with their far-flung colleagues.

SFSFF Artistic Director Anita Monga and Executive Director Stacey Wisnia will be sending me dispatches from this wonderland of silent film over the next few days, and I will share them with you. Let's try not to be too jealous! After all, they always return with one of the famous Pordenone catalogs—full of fascinating essays and news on the latest discoveries about our silent-film heritage—and, of course, loaded with inspiration and ideas for our own festival coming up in May.

If you want to torture yourself, click here for the full Pordenone festival schedule and here to feast your mind on this year's catalog. I can't wait to add it to our library!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Say "Marquise," I Say "Marquees"

We at the Silent Office are still coming down off the high of last Saturday's Silent Autumn! It's difficult to believe it's over—and even more difficult to believe that we hardly snapped any pictures. From all the attendees and volunteers nattily dressed in period clothing to the moodily lit musical accompanists (Donald Sosin and Alloy Orchestra), to the boy who bought a fez from the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's sale table and paired it with his Chaplin mask to regard himself in the Castro lobby's mirror, there were photo ops everywhere. And we missed 'em. Well, except for the most obvious—and often the most breathtaking:

Silent Autumn 2014, Castro Theatre, photo by Lucy Laird
There's nothing like a cinema marquee at night, is there? With its wowing wattage, chasing neon embellishments, and blocky black letters spelling out the night of thrills and high drama to come! It starts my heart a-racing, anyway.The spectacle of our marquee, and the considerably more low-tech yet highly baroque marquee (below) that we featured in our Silent Autumn program, got me thinking about marquees—the word, the structure, and their history.
Comique Theatre, Toronto, 1910, photo from City of Toronto Archives
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "marquee" is a distinctly American mis-understanding of the word "marquise," which has meant, at least since the late 19th century, a light roof projecting from the façade of a building. You see, we heard it and thought "marquise" was the plural form of the singular "marquee." And by 1926—right around the time one of our Silent Autumn features, Buster Keaton's The General, was released—"marquee" with its modern-day meaning took off.Marquees started small and relatively unassuming:
Balboa Theatre, San Diego, 1924, photo from
Well, the marquee part started small and unassuming, anyway...

Colonial Theater, Wichita, 1918, photo from Wichita/Sedgwick County Historical Museum
These early marquees were more suited to foot traffic, as evidenced by the signs, especially the smaller, painted ones, that could be read easily by passersby.
The Leader Theater, 1920
And as time passed, and budgets and the popularity of moviegoing increased, so did the spectacle:
Sigma Theater, Lima, Ohio, 1924, photo from

Royal Theater, Kansas City, 1927, from NARA

The evolution of marquee design is closely linked to that driving force of 20th-century change: the automobile. The trapezoidal shape, eye-catching lights, and blocky, more regular lettering of later marquees allowed passengers in speeding motor cars to read all the pertinent information...which brings us back to our beloved Castro Theatre's marquee, dating from the late 1930s. Ain't it grand?

Silent Autumn 2014, Castro Theatre, photo by Lucy Laird

By the way, if any of you reading this attended Silent Autumn and managed to take photographs, please share them with us! Send them to Thanks!

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.”