Saturday, January 9, 2010

Guest blogger: Donna Hill

Donna Hill is a long time attendee of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, as well as one of the leading experts on Rudolph Valentino. Since 1997, she has run Falcon Lair: The Rudolph Valentino Homepage at Donna is also a podcaster. Since 2006, Donna has been broadcasting "Stolen Moments," a unique online audio-cast devoted to Valentino and silent film. Currently, Donna is nearing completion of a new book, Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol. In this guest blog, Donna Hill muses on some past (and future) Festivals.


The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is an event to which I eagerly look forward every year.  I’ve attended as long as I’ve lived in San Francisco (interrupted by the hiccup of living on the east coast for a few years). What began as a small event has blossomed into a weekend packed with great films and the chance to revisit with old friends and make new ones.  People around the world plan vacations around attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival; I am local, but I am still one of them. 

2010 will be a landmark year for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival - its fifteenth anniversary.  As a San Franciscan, I may be biased, but I feel the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is one of the premiere film events in the United States.  Nearly every major star from the silent era has been represented in screenings over the course of those fifteen years. 

A few of the gems shown include: Stage Struck (1925) starring Gloria Swanson (my favorite of her silent films); Aelita Queen of Mars (1927) a cubist propaganda delight from the Soviet Union; Bardelys the Magnificent (1927) a rollicking swashbuckler starring John Gilbert; Chicago (1927) the silent (and superior) film version of the Roxie Hart story; Her Wild Oat (1926) starring the eternal flapper, Colleen Moore; and Sunrise (1927), arguably the greatest film of the American silent film era. Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, Louise Brooks, Harold Lloyd, Ramon Novarro, Lon Chaney and Rudolph Valentino have all been represented with at least one screening. 

It’s not just all about the films. What am I saying! Of course it is all about the films.  But the venue in which the films are screened is a special one, indeed. The Castro Theater is a beautifully preserved 1920s neighborhood movie theater.  It is not as large as some of the truly massive palaces, but it is a lovely representative of an era when attending a movie - even in your own neighborhood - was an event. It’s easy to be engrossed and seduced by the magic of silent film in such an environment. And seduction is exactly what it is.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival planners know all too well that silent films were never truly silent.  The Castro has a magnificent Mighty Wurlitzer in house and great care is taken to invite musicians familiar with and eager to play for the films. Philip Carli, The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Donald Sosin, Robert Israel and Dennis James have all come to tickle the ivories and enhance the experience for not only the seasoned silent film fan, but those who’ve never seen a silent before. I overuse this phrase, but the experience is magic. Once you’ve seen a silent film in this environment, you will be changed forever.

In this the 15th anniversary year the length of the festival will increase to a four day festival. July 15-18th are already marked on my calendar.  I’m anxiously awaiting the announcement of the film lineup planned for this year and I am eager to plant myself in the theater and enjoy this unforgotten art form.

I’d like to present a request to the Board and Staff of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  As a Valentino fan, I can only lament that his best work has not yet been scheduled by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Valentino films have been showcased at the Castro Theater before. It would be dream come true to see Valentino’s 1925 Clarence Brown-directed comedy/adventure film The Eagle under the aegis of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival  A stunning print derived from a 35mm fine grain negative is extant which has been restored by Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury of Photoplay Productions. That’s my dream for a future San Francisco Silent Film Festival screening.  Perhaps 2010 will be the year my wish comes true.

1 comment:

  1. One film I would love to see at the SFSFF is Nazimova's "Salome." This is a bizarre expressionistic classic. I saw it, once, many many years ago at the Los Angeles Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax Avenue.