Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Snapshots from the festival

By all accounts, the 2010 San Francisco Silent Film Festival was a smash!

Big crowds turned out for every film, great  movies were viewed with live music, and, as many commented - there was a buzz in the air, a reel feeling of being part of a film community. We hope everyone who made it to this just past event had a great time.

The one film everyone seemed to be talking about - and the big discovery for film buffs of all stripes was Rotaie (1929). One of the most important Italian movies of the late silent period, Rotaie is the story is of two young lovers, very poor and on the brink of suicide, who come into a bit of temporary good luck. Finding a lost wallet in a train station, the lovers hop a train to two thrilling weeks of high living. The film’s exquisite style was influenced by the expressionism of German master F.W. Murnau - and it genuinely moved the audience.

Festival goers who weren't talking about Rotaie were likely talking about Metropolis (1927), which was shown with a live score by the acclaimed Alloy Orchestra. (It was announced from the Festival stage that the Alloy score would be included as an alternative soundtrack on the upcoming KINO release of the restored film - ah, but to have seen and heard it live at the historic Castro!)

The two Argentinian archivists who found the long missing segments of Metropolis, Paula Félix-Didier and Fernando Peña of the Museo del Cine, were also on hand to talk about their discovery. Oh, the stories they told . . . .

Speaking of which, not only did Metropolis sell out the 1400 seat Castro, but so did the various specially commissioned posters for the Festival - including the one pictured here for Fritz Lang's futuristic masterpiece. [One clever fan was even spotted getting their Metropolis poster signed by the two Argentinian archivist!] If you missed out on getting a poster, check out the artist's website at http://aliencorset.blogspot.com/.

There were many special guests on hand at this year's event, including a few not "on the schedule." As San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik noted today, pop singer Linda Rondstadt was in the crowd to hear Dennis James accompany the opening night film, The Iron Horse (1924), on the mighty Castro Wurlitzer. (Ronstadt and James collaborated on the extraordinary 2002 CD release, Cristal: Glass Music Through The Ages.)

Also in attendance on opening night was outgoing California State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George. Though he had been called to Sacramento earlier in the day to confer with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about his possible replacement (the Chief Justice announced his retirement last week), George was eager to see The Iron Horse, which stars San Francisco born actor George O'Brien. Why? Because some years earlier, the future Chief Justice had been college roommates with George O'Brien's son, the late writer Darcy O'Brien. The Chief Justice had also met the famous actor back then, and has remained a friend of the family.

Also renewing old school ties were Robert Dix, the son of leading man Richard Dix, and William Wellman Jr., the son of Academy Award winning director William Wellman. Each were signing books at the same time. These two sons of film legends attended Hollywood High only a couple years apart and had known each other back then (Wellman Sr. had also made a film with Richard Dix). Dix (seen signing books in the foreground) and Wellman (chatting with a fan) are pictured right.

Speaking of family, prior to the screening of the terrific 1929 William Wyler film, The Shakedown, Leonard Maltin interviewed the three daughters of the Academy Award winning director on the Castro stage. Each recalled having grown up surrounded by Hollywood legends. When the three Wyler girls were younger, they recalled that their neighbor was Charlie Chaplin and his family - they remembered playing with Geraldine and riding their neighbor's dumb waiter, and that Charlie himself was often seated at the piano working on his music.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is a real/reel film lovers event. Acclaimed novelist Glen David Gold (Carter Beats the Devil and Sunnyside) was on hand, as was pop culture historian Gerald Jones (author of Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book).

And so were film historians Mark Cotta Vaz (Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong) and Matthew Kennedy (Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes and Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory: Hollywood's Genius Bad Boy). Vaz (left) and Kevin Brownlow (right) are seen chatting in this snapshot taken on the Castro mezzanine.

What follows are a few other snapshots taken on the Castro mezzanine. We hope to post more pictures from the 2010 event as soon as we get all of those many rolls of film developed! [We also hope to post an announcement about where to find the Metropolis pictures taken by the San Francisco Film Museum.]

At left, Silent Film Festival executive director Stacey Wisnia greets Texas-based film historian David Menefee, author of George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood, and Ira Resnick, author of Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood. Both Menefee (left) and Resnick (right) were on hand to sign books.

Below is a snapshot of pianist Donald Sosin, who accompanied a couple of films at the Festival; he is speaking with Diana Serra Cary, who was on hand to sign copies of her autobiography Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? Many were thrilled to meet Cary, who in the 1920s was the child film star known as Baby Peggy.

And below is a snapshot of Pixar director Pete Docter (left), who along with Leonard Maltin (right) introduced "The Big Business of Short, Funny Films" - an uproariously hilarious program of comedic short films starring the likes of Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, Max Davidson, and Laurel & Hardy.

Following their presentation, each signed books for fans. One youngster and his Father even drove up from Orange County especially to meet the Academy Award winning Docter (UP, Monster Inc). The lucky youngster got some advice from the acclaimed director about being a cartoonist ("Draw every day") as well as an original cartoon drawing in his special autographed book.

The 2010 San Francisco Silent Film Festival was a four day event filled with films and fun. It was also a lot of work for the many volunteers who helped make sure things ran smoothly. Thank you to each and every one of them. The Festival, which has expanded to four days, is the work of four special people, Executive Director Stacey Wisnia, seen falling asleep below on the shoulder of Marketing & Development Director Jeremy O'Neal, who is sitting next to still awake Artistic Director Anita Monga, who is sitting next to ready to go-to-sleep Office Manager and go-to-girl Lucia Pier. They deserve a round of applause, and a good night's rest.

[Those in attendance at this year's event may have heard  the stage announcement that two films have already been scheduled for next year's big summer festival. They are the Allan Dwan-directed Mr. Fix-It (1918), with Douglas Fairbanks and Wanda Hawley, and the Fritz Lang-directed Frau im Mond (1929). Both have been recently restored. See you then, if not sooner.]


  1. Sounds wonderful! I'll have to try to find a way to make it next year.

  2. The screening of Metropolis was excellent, but there is absolutely no excuse for starting it over an hour later than the advertised time. I waited in the rush line for two full hours in very cold weather, and when I finally got into the theater expecting that introductions were already done and the film would start, there was an extended Q&A. While the Q&A was interesting, standard practice at every other festival I have attended at the Castro is to introduce the guests briefly at the start and save the Q&A for after the film. I had to take the last BART train back to the East Bay afterwards and got home at 1:00 a.m. Looks like I wasn't the only one who was annoyed by this: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/07/20/big-screen-berkeley-metflopolis/. I realize that you are probably understaffed, but please work on this for next year. Thanks.