Monday, November 30, 2009

The American Venus

This rather nifty original one-sheet poster for the 1926 silent film The American Venus is currently for sale on eBay. (The asking price is $3,750 hint, hint. "Just kidding.") Directed by Frank Tuttle for Famous Players-Lasky, The American Venus is a romantic comedy set against the Miss America contest in Atlantic City. The cast included Esther Ralston, Ford Sterling, and former San Francisco resident Lawrence Gray. The film, which is now lost, was released in January, 1926 and featured some early technicolor sequences.

In 2006, as part of its celebration of the Louise Brooks centenary, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival showed a couple of recently discovered fragments of the film. Those fragments included footage of Brooks - the film was her first credited screen role - as well as the film's nominal star, Fay Lanphier. Lanphier is the actress depicted on the one-sheet.

What's interesting to note is that in the mid-1920s Lanphier was something of a Bay Area celebrity. Lanphier was crowned Miss America in September, 1925 - the first Californian so honored - and was the subject of a good deal of ballyhoo. It was because of her title that she gained a much celebrated part in The American Venus. (How she got the role, and whether the beauty pageant itself had been fixed, was the subject of press speculation at the time.)

The American Venus proved popular throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, primarily because it contained a pretty fair amount of female pulchitrude, as they used to say. A special benefit screening of the film was held on New Year's Eve of 1925 at the American Theater in Oakland. Lanphier was to have been in attendance at the film's West Coast premiere, but instead, she appeared later New Years day in the Rose Bowl Parade after having been named the Queen of the Tournament of Roses.

The American Venus played at the California Theatre in nearby Pittsburg on January 5-6  before opening a week long run on January 9 at the Granada Theatre on Market Street in San Francisco. At the Granada, Lanphier made personal appearances before each afternoon and evening show. Large crowds turned out, according to newspaper reports of the time, as they did for the film's week-long run at the American in Oakland between January 16-22, 1926. The American Venus also screened in numerous other theatres around the Bay Area.

Despite good looks and a degree of celebrity, a film career proved elusive for Lanphier. Lanphier sued her manager, made a personal appearance tour, was married and divorced, worked as a secretary in Hollywood, and eventually settled in Orinda, California. Her only other role was a bit part in the Laurel & Hardy short, Flying Elephants (1928).

From youtube, here is one of the surviving fragments of The American Venus. In this trailer for the film, Lanphier is the seen in the first close-up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Special guests at 2009 winter event

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is pleased to announce that several special guests will attend the fifth annual Winter Event, which will be held on Saturday, December 12th at the Castro Theatre. (Further details on the day long event can be found at

New York Times bestselling author Mark Vaz will introduce the Merian C. Cooper film, Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, at the 11:30 am screening. Vaz is well versed in Cooper's work. Vaz wrote the widely acclaimed Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong. His recent books includes the #1 New York Times bestselling movie companion books to Twilight and New Moon

Preservationist Robert Byrne, who worked this summer with the restoration team at Nederlands Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, will introduce the North American Premiere of the Filmmuseum's beautiful restoration of Abel Gance's J'Accuse. Not only is the San Francisco Silent Film Festival the first place outside of Holland and Italy to screen the restoration, but this version — the complete, original cut of Gance's seminal film — has never before been seen in this country! J'Accuse screens at 2:00 pm.

Melissa Cox, granddaughter of Buster Keaton, will grace the festival with her presence at the 7:00 pm presentation of Keaton's magnificent Sherlock Jr., which will be play with his brilliant short, The Goat. Interviewing Ms. Cox on the Castro stage will be actor/director/writer Frank Buxton, who acted in a summers stock production with Keaton. Buxton, whose resumé includes writing What's Up, Tiger Lily? with Woody Allen, and writing and directing many episodes of television's The Odd Couple, has a distinct, hilarious take on comedy in Hollywood.

Following Sherlock Jr., local authors Gary Lee Parks and Jack Tillmany will sign copies of their books on the Castro mezzanine. Parks is the author of the recently released Theaters of San Jose. Tillmany is the author of Theatres of San Francisco and Theatres of Oakland.

Also invited is Ron Chaney, the great-grandson of Lon Chaney. At 9:15 pm, the Festival will screen the 1928 Lon Chaney film, West of Zanzibar.

In the news

Anita Monga, the recently appointed Artistic Director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day. The article, "Film programmer Anita Monga's 5-star places," notes some of Monga's favorite places in the Bay Area. Check them out here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

First entry

Welcome to the blog of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. This blog will feature news, announcements, notes & more of interest to those interested in silent film.

Based in San Francisco and now 14 years running, the Silent Film Festival is a nonprofit organization promoting the artistic, cultural, and historic value of silent film. This first entry is something of a test message - just to see how things format. The staff of the Festival is excited at the prospect of this new medium.

For more information on the SFSFF and its upcoming events, please visit our website at