Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekend update #19

Here are some brief bits of news - offered on a regular basis - from and about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the world of silent film:

1) In the summer of 2009, the Silent Film Festival screened Josef von Sternberg's Oscar winning Underworld (1927) to great acclaim. Now, that early work, along with two other of the director's silent films have been released on DVD. 

By common consensus, its agreed that the Vienna-born Sternberg directed some of the most extraordinarily stylish sound dramas ever to come out of Hollywood. Though best known for his star-making collaborations with Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel, Shanghai Express, Morocco), the trans-continental Sternberg began his movie career during the final years of the silent era, dazzling audiences and critics alike with his films’ dark visions and innovative cinematography. 

The titles in this new collection, Three Silent Classics By Josef Von Sternberg, were each made on the cusp of the sound age. They are also three of Sternberg’s greatest works - there's a gritty evocation of gangster life (Underworld), a story of the Russian Revolution (The Last Command), and a shadowy spectacle of working-class desperation (The Docks of New York). The Alloy Orchestra have contributed two musical scores, while Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton have contributed a visual essay. Be sure and check out this new Criterion release, along with John Baxter's forthcoming book on the director, Von Sternberg, from The University Press of Kentucky.

2) This past summer, the Festival screened The Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), also to great acclaim. One of the stars of that G.W. Pabst-directed film was Valeska Gert, the cruel and curious looking headmistress of the reform school to which Brooks' character, Thymain, is sent. The scene in which Gert orgiastically bangs a gong as her charges exercise to her rhythm is memorable, to say the least.
Besides Diary of a Lost Girl, Gert had important parts in two other films by Pabst, Joyless Street (1925, with Greta Garbo), and Threepenny Opera (1931, with Lotte Lenya). However, Gert was only an occasional actress. In Germany, she is currently the subject of a rediscovery of sorts – but not for her film work. Rather, a new book and gallery exhibit are making much of Gert’s pioneering work as dancer, performance artist, and inspiration to Germany’s punk rockers. An article on the Deutsche Welle website, "Germany's forgotten performer Valeska Gert helped inspire punk," discusses the new biography and first ever exhibit about this remarkable artist.

3) Speaking of Diary of a Lost Girl - the film will be shown on November 14th (Louise Brooks' birthday) in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library. Prior to the screening, Thomas Gladysz (your humble blogger) will speak about the new "Louise Brooks edition" of Margarete Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl - the 1905 book which was the basis for the 1929 film. The introduction to this new book details the remarkable history of Bohme's book (a turn-of-the-last-century literary phenomenon translated into 14 languages which sold  more than 1,200,000 copies) and relationship to the later film. 

Should all go according to plan, there will also be a short Power Point presentation before the screening. Copies of the book will be on sale at the event, and a book signing will follow.


  1. Artists in those times were very impressive. And do not use plastic surgery:)

  2. Valeska Gert also had a small role in Fellini's JULIET OF THE SPIRITS, as the psychic Bhisma.