Saturday, February 27, 2010

Balboa birthday bash

The Balboa theater is among the last neighborhood theaters still operating in San Francisco. This Richmond district institution is celebrating its February 1926 opening with the screening of a silent film and other festive goings-on. The Balboa Birthday Bash – as it’s being billed, will take place on Sunday, February 28th.

The evening’s entertainment starts at 7 pm. Doors open at 6:30 pm.

To celebrate its birthday, the Balboa will screen The Cat and the Canary (1927), a silent film adaptation of John Willard's 1922 black comedy of the same name. Directed by the German Expressionist filmmaker Paul Leni, this American film stars Laura La Plante. The Balboa presentation of The Cat and the Canary will feature live musical accompaniment by Dave Miotke.

The Balboa Theater is located at 3630 Balboa Street in San Francisco. Advance tickets are $10.00 and may be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets. Audience members are encouraged to wear period clothing. The Balboa is also promising prizes, birthday cake, and surprises.

Additional information on this special event can be found on the Balboa Theater website at Also be sure and visit the Cinema Treasures page on the Balboa, which details its history and contains links to both historic and contemporary images of the much loved theater. And as well, the Western Neighborhoods Project has a webpage on the Balboa which is also worth visiting.

The Cat and the Canary is among the better remembered early thrillers released by Universal. During the silent era, Universal released The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Wow. And during the early sound era, it was responsible for most of the great horror films of the time - such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), etc....

When The Cat and the Canary played around the Northern California, it proved popular. Pictured to the left is an October, 1927 newspaper advertisement for its showing at the New Roseville theater in Roseville, California (near Sacramento, in Placer County). What a week of films it was.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A call for authors

One of the longstanding traditions of the annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival is the book table and the accompanying author signings which take place throughout the event. Over the years, the Festival has held book signings for everyone from Diana Serra Carey (aka "Baby Peggy") and Sydney Chaplin to such acclaimed film historians and biographers as Arthur Lennig, David Stenn, Cari Beauchamp, and Robert S. Birchard. That tradition continues this year.

The Festival, which is celebrating it's 15th anniversary in July, would like to invite film historians or film biographers who have authored a recent book to participate in this year's Festival. It's a great showcase before thousands of people - most all of them passionate film enthusiasts. For publishers, the SFSFF is a great way to gain attention and sales for your titles, and for authors the Festival is a great opportunity to meet readers and fans. Books Inc., a local independent bookstore, will be on hand to sell books over the course of the weekend.

A handful of authors have already been booked for this Summer's event - and available slots are filling up. We think its  going to be an event that no one who loves silent film will want to miss. The 15th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival will take place July 15 - 18 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.

Additional information can be found at Interested individuals or their publishers should contact author coordinator Thomas Gladysz at silentfilmbuff {AT} gmail DOT com.

Pictured above is actor and author William Wellman Jr. signing copies of his acclaimed book, The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture, at the 2007 San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

For the Love of Film: Film Preservation Blogathon

It likely that without the efforts of film preservationists, archivists, scholars and collectors, there wouldn't be a San Francisco Silent Film Festival as we know it - or at least the Festival would not have had the history of showing many of the films that it has over the years.

That's true for Metropolis, the 1927 Fritz Lang directed film which was recently restored in Germany and which will be shown this July as part of the SFSFF's annual Summer event.
Today is the final day of the "For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon." It's an effort by film bloggers from all around the world to call attention to the need for continuing film preservation - as well as to raise funds to benefit the National Film Preservation Foundation. Though today is the last day of the blogathon, it's not too late to act.

For more information, visit Ferdy on Films and Self-Styled Siren, two bloggers who are the  hosts of the blogathon. (There is also a page on Facebook with additional details.) If you would like to make a donation to this most worthy cause, follow this link. The following video is a kind of commercial for the cause.

If you read this blog, chances are you love film - especially silent film. Here's one way to show your affection, and to get involved.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Metropolis in the news

Earlier this week, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival announced it would screen the newly restored version of Metropolis (1927) which just recently premiered in Germany. The SFSFF screening will take place in July, at the Festival's annual Summer event. That screening will give Festival attendees a chance to see this seminal masterpiece in a form close to what audiences experienced more than 80 years ago when it first debuted in Berlin.

The restoration of Metropolis has made news around the world. And, there a number of interesting and worthwhile articles about the film & screening which can be found online. A search of Google News, for example, reveals nearly 30 articles from international publications including some from Germany, nearly 15 other newspaper articles published in the United States, as well as 15 blogs.

The German articles reviewing the event after the fact make for especially interesting reading. Be sure and check out the articles which appeared in Deutsche Welle and Spiegel Online. Reuters UK also reported on the event as did The Age from Melbourne, Australia and Xinhua, and English-language publication from China.

Pictured above is Fritz Lang directing Brigitte Helm in a scene from Metropolis. Image courtesy of the Deutsche Kinemathek. Be sure and visit their website for more about the film, including some German-language pages devoted to their exhibit, "The Complete METROPOLIS."

Additional information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation in July can be found here. We're all anticipating a great film and a great film experience. See you this Summer!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Fritz Lang's visionary film of the future, Metropolis (1927), has recently been restored and shown to great acclaim in Germany. As even a cursory look at the world wide web shows, there's a good deal of buzz in the film world about this new print.

And what's more, word has just gotten out that this newly restored version of the film will be shown at the upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival in July. Metropolis will be presented with live musical accompaniment provided by the Alloy Orchestra.

In 2008, a copy of the film 30 minutes longer than any other known surviving copy was located in Argentina. After considerable restoration in Germany, the restored film was shown publicly for the first time in Berlin and Frankfurt just a few days ago - on February 12, 2010. The event - and not so much the film - was also shown live outdoors on a screen beneath the Brandenburg Gate. See this earlier blog for additional details about that happening.

Additional film footage of Metropolis is not all that has recently been uncovered. Shortly before the February 12th premiere, rare audio recording related to the film also turned up. These recording included Fritz Lang speaking about the film, along with musical motifs from the original film score. To learn more about this remarkable new discovery, as well as hear these recordings, visit this German-language page at the Deutsche Kinemathek.

[The story behind these rare recording is this: A few days after the premiere of the film,  Gottfried Huppertz led an orchestra in recording various pieces of his original music. Fritz Lang also recorded a spoken word introduction to the film. A two-sided recording was quickly released, but just as soon disappeared. For decades it was thought to be missing. Shortly before the  February 12th premiere of the restored film, the record turned-up in the archives of a private collector. The German Film Archive has digitized the record and included it in an exhibit devoted to the restored Metropolis.]

When Metropolis opened in Germany in early 1927, it was a sensation.This newly restored version - the most complete print in existance - should likewise prove to be "The Masterpiece That Set the World Agog" - or as this vintage San Mateo newspaper advertisement puts it - baffling, bewildering, and beautiful.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Care to chat?

As silent films are to the movie industry of today, so message boards might seems to some contemporary internet users. 

The old school BBS, and then newsgroups and message boards (or chat boards), were one of the earlier manifestations of the internet. Remember when alt.movies.silent was the place to go to find out about what's happening in the world of silent film? There, one could not only read and post messages, but also "meet" other like-minded individuals interested in silent movies.

The world has changed, and so has the world wide web. Newsgroups and message boards have largely given way to social networking sites and blogs. However, a few message boards remain which are more than worth checking out. Each are active, information-filled sites.

The best of them can be found on the "Links We Like" list on the left-hand side of this blog. They include Golden Silents, NitrateVille, and the SilentComedyMafia message boards. Typically, one has to sign-up or register to post a message, though generally anyone can read the boards. 

Each are worth checking out. And each contains thousands of messages. There are calls to identify a still to personal reviews of films to announcements about new books, DVD's, screenings, broadcasts and websites. There are also discussions about the music of the period, film research, silent film comedians, polls and a whole lot more.

For example, there is a query on NitrateVille asking if anyone can identify the actress. pictured here. The request originated on the Nitrate Film Interest Group on Flickr. So far, the identity of the actress is unknown. Perhaps you know? Follow the thread.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. To celebrate, we thought we would point you to a piece in last Sunday's LA Times Magazine. The piece, "50 Classic Movie Kisses," features three famous kisses from silent films. To find out which, check out the complete list, along with video clips, at

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A now a few words about Daly City

In yesterday's blog, we took note of one of the theaters south of San Francisco screening films during the 1920's. In particular, we mentioned the New State Theatre and its 1927 showing of Metropolis

We also mentioned that it was one of a handful of theaters showing films in the area. That mention drew the notice of a local theater historian who wondered if we might happen to have an image of the Daly City Theatre. According to the Cinema Treasures website, "This theater, located just south of the San Francisco city limits, opened November 27, 1928, closed 1952, and was demolished in 1958." And apparently, few images of the theatre back in the day are readily found.

Well, this is what we have. It is an illustration which ran at the top of the theatre's regular newspaper advertisements. This one dates from the 1930's. And here is another example, in situ, which also dates from the late 1930's. Hope this helps. By the way, that's quite a double bill they are playing on Saturday night!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Restored Metropolis in Berlin today & live screening LIVE

When Metropolis opened in Germany in early 1927, it was a sensation. The Fritz Lang directed futuristic thriller was a hit not only in Lang's native land, but also around the world. The film played in San Francisco as well, later in the year, and even ran in the suburbs and in small cities and towns all over the greater Bay Area. Advertisements for the film have been spotted in newspapers in Berkeley, Oakland, Dixon, Davis, Sacramento, San Jose, etc....

For example, shown here is an advertisement for a second run screening of the film in December, 1927 at the New State Theatre in San Francicso. (Little is known about this venue, which was in the south part of the city. This advertisement was found in the Daly City newspaper, which also carried ads for theaters in Colma and Brisbane.) "Words Can't Describe It!" and "The Masterpiece That Set the World Agog" screams the ad. There was also a comedy short, a news reel, and stage attractions.

Today, in Berlin, the highly anticipated newly restored version of the films is being screened as part of the Berlin International Film Festival.This page and this page offers some additional information (in French) about the film, while this page offers a LIVESTREAM of German language coverage of the screening! Check it out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Midwinter Comedy Film Festival starts tomorrow!

If you can't make it to the Berlin International Film Festival under way in Germany (where the newly restored Metropolis screens tomorrow), then why not make your way to the Midwinter Comedy Film Festival in nearby Fremont, California. The weekend long event - put on by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum - starts tomorrow evening.

The Midwinter Comedy Film Festival will screen a full schedule of silent and early sound films (mostly shorts) all meant to make you laugh. There are a lot of rarities. And too many to list here - so instead, check the Niles website for a complete line-up. The films being presented come from the collection of film historian and collector Richard M. Roberts. He will be on on hand to introduce each program.

The Midwinter Comedy Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday, February 12-14. Festival passes run $39 for members, and $49 for non-members. Tickets to individual programs are available and run between $6 and $12, depending on the program.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is located at 37417 Niles Blvd. in Fremont, California. For further information, call (510) 494-1411 or visit the Museum’s website at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The "avant-garde" - its a French term which means "advance guard." Though its original usage had military connotations, today it commonly refers to artworks (including film) which is experimental or innovative or in someway progressive beyond that which is popularly accepted. However you define it, the avant-garde is out there.

If you were brave enough to have attended the screening of The Fall of the House of Usher (La Chute de la maison Usher) this past July at the 14th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, then you saw an avant-garde film. And if liked it, then you will want to know there is more out there. Don't wait for these sorts of films to be shown on television. [Be sure and check out Shari Kizirian's excellent program notes on The Fall of the House of Usher which can be found on the ever growing SFSFF website archive.]

Recently KINO has released Avant-Garde 3: Experimental Cinema 1922-1954 (link2buy), the third volume of in a series devoted to experimental and innovative cinema. it, along with the earlier Avant Garde - Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s (link2buy) and Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954 (link2buy), are chock full of strange, weird, and wonderful short and not so short films. There are American films and French films. There are surreal films and films by Surrealists. There are films by Orson Welles, Paul Leni, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and the late Bay Area poet James Broughton - and many others. The first volume in the series even has the 1928 American The Fall of the House of Usher, a different but no less poetic telling of the Poe story.

Each of the three two-disc KINO sets is recommended, as is the massive, 7 disc Unseen Cinema - Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 (link2buy) from Image as well as the single disc Unseen Cinema: Picturing a Metropolis (link2buy), also from Image. Of course, there is some overlap between the sets. But half the fun of exploring this little seen realm of the cinema is discovering its history. Another two-disc set from Image, Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 (link2buy), continues the story of the avant-garde cinema in America.

Each of the DVDs pictured here can be purchased online, through their respective studio, or at a local shop. The (link2buy) text takes you to an page with additional details about each set.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Image magazine, and the GEH

One of the great institutions for the preservation and study of film (and photography) in the United States is the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. It's a museum, a study center, an archive, and so much more. To find out about this friend to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, visit it's website at

Over the years, the Eastman House has aided the SFSFF through the presentation of films from its collection, the development of programs, the inclusion of speakers and special guests from the GEH, and more. The SFSFF is the Festival that it is, in part, due to the valuable participation of our New York state colleague.

Of course, the George Eastman House is listed under the film-related "links we like" list on the left hand side of this blog. And just recently, we've added their museum blog to our list of "blogs we read." Though we've only come across their blog recently, we managed to read through many of its entries and found them fascinating. Wow. You should check them out as well.

Another GEH resource we simply must call your attention to is Image magazine, one of the first journals of photography and film. Included on the extensive GEH website are pdf scans the first 47 years of this groundbreaking publication. Its a treasure trove of material. And, as Image wasn't always the easiest publication to get ahold of, its a treasure trove of rare material.

According to their website . . . . "Beginning in 1952, Image traced the accumulation of scholarship in the history of photography, including the evolving motion picture industry and the technology of photography. In its first decades there was nothing like it in the world. Beaumont Newhall, George Eastman House's first curator and author of The History of Photography (published by the Museum of Modern Art), was a frequent contributor in the early years, as was the Museum's first motion picture curator, James Card, an eminent motion picture historian. Also contributing numerous articles was George Pratt, a silent film scholar and author of the widely consulted Spellbound in Darkness (New York Graphic Society). Other noted contributors include the artist and George Eastman House curator, Minor White; educator and visionary, Nathan Lyons; and Museum curators, Thomas Barrow and Robert Sobieszek. Together this accumulation of research and interpretation established the history of photography as a legitimate field of scholarship."

Old timers, bibliophiles, and silent film buffs may recall the old Dover publication, Image on the Art and Evolution of the Film: Photographs and Articles from the Magazine of the International Museum of Photography, edited by Marshall Deutelbaum. That now out-of-print, 256 page book from 1979 gather just a fraction of the many fascinating articles found on its pages. Now, enthusiasts can read entire issues - and all for free.

There is much to be found. For example, today is the 81st anniversary of the premiere of Pandora's Box. The G.W. Pabst directed film (which showed at the SFSFF in 2006) debuted at the Gloria-Palast in Berlin on February 9, 1929. Volume 5, issue 7 of Image magazine (from 1956) contains both "Out of Pandora's Box: New light on G. W. Pabst from his lost star, Louise Brooks" by James Card, as well as "Mr. Pabst" by Louise Brooks, the actress' own  account of her relationship with the director and the making of their classic film.

That's just one example of the wealth of material to be found within the pages of Image. There are also articles on the pre-history of film, on Danish film, D.W. Griffith, Blanche Sweet, Mary Pickford, Cecil B. DeMille, and King Vidor's The Crowd - not to mention interviews with Buster Keaton, Ramon Novarro, Harold Lloyd, James Wong Howe and others. If you love silent film and film history, don't fail to take the opportunity to browse this online version of this extraordinary publication.

Thank you George Eastman House.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kevin Brownlow & Photoplay Productions now online

Kevin Brownlow's Photoplay Productions, which is about to celebrate it's 20th anniversary,  recently launched a website at

If you have even just a casual interest in early film, then you likely know who Kevin Brownlow is and what he has accomplished in the field of documenting, restoring, and promoting the silent cinema. 

From books like The Parade's Gone By to films like  Hollywood - the Pioneers to the restoration of Abel Gance's Napoleon, Brownlow is a man of many amazing accomplishment. In our opinion, he is also one of the great figures in the field of film history.

His company, Photoplay Productions, which he runs with Patrick Stansbury, is the "public face" of these and many other efforts. Visit their website and find out more!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Library of Congress posts silent Vaudeville video

Back in the Winter of 2007, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presented an afternoon program of Vitaphone Vaudeville. The program included nine short films - each released between 1926 and 1930 - starring the likes of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Spencer Tracy, The Mound City Blue Blowers, and others. Each was an entertaining example of the first synchronized-sound-and-image system to meet with commercial success. [Visit the SFSFF program notes archive for additional details.]

Recently, our colleagues at the Library of Congress posted a number of videos on YouTube of even earlier Vaudeville acts. These short silent films, which predate those shown by the SFSFF, feature both people and animals. To contemporary viewers, some of this footage looks a little dated - and the acts little more then novelty numbers. However, to patrons of the Teens and Twenties, this is what passed for swell entertainment. We encourge our readers to take a peek.

Each of the LOC video entries on YouTube are annotated. For example, the above clip features a performer named Karina filmed in New York City in 1902 by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company. That's a long time ago! 

The annotation goes on to note that "According to ads in the New York Clipper, Karina was a 'French chanteuse eccentrique' and 'creatrice of the Valse Deshabille.' She performed specialty acts, songs, and dances, and was accepting engagements with 'first class vaudeville or burlesque managers.'" Certainly, 108 years later, her artistry  has achieved a renown through film never imagined at the turn of the last century.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Evelyn Brent

Chances are, if you saw Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927) at last July's San Francisco Silent Film Festival, you couldn't take your eyes off of Evelyn Brent. She played the oh so dishy Feathers McCoy.

[The SFSFF's program notes on Underworld, including a bit more on Brent, can be found on the SFSFF website.]

Underworld - an early gangster film with proto-noir tendencies - may well have been the high point of Brent's career. Or at least its the film for which she is best  remembered today. Brent was a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1923. And in a notable career that spanned the years 1914 through 1963, the actress appeared in more than 125 film and television productions. Among her credits are such well remembered fare as Love 'Em and Leave 'Em (1926), Beau Sabreur (1928), The Last Command (1928), Interference (1928), Paramount on Parade (1930), King of Gamblers (1937), and others.

But that's only half the story. McFarland, the leading publisher of books about early film, has recently issued Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook, by Lynn Kear and James King. This new 300-page book - which includes a forward by Kevin Brownlow, tells the other half.

A description provided by McFarland encapsulates not only Brent's story, but the narrative trajectory of this new work: "Evelyn Brent's life and career were going quite well in 1928. She was happily living with writer Dorothy Herzog following her divorce from producer Bernard Fineman, and the tiny brunette had wowed fans and critics in the silent films The Underworld and The Last Command. She'd also been a sensation in Paramount's first dialogue film, Interference. But by the end of that year Brent was headed for a quick, downward spiral ending in bankruptcy and occasional work as an extra. What happened is a complicated story laced with bad luck, poor decisions, and treachery detailed in the first and only full-length biography."

Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Lady Crook is half biographical study and half filmography. It's packed with details, and a few images. Lynn Kear, who authored an earlier book on Kay Francis, has done a more than worthwhile job in telling Brent's remarkable story. A fuller review of this book, by Anthony Slide, can be found on the film historian's website, The Slide Area. [Evelyn Brent is available on-line and through the publisher. With any luck, we hope to have copies available at the mezzanine booktable at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival.]

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amanda Howard

Tucson, Arizona just got lucky.

Amanda Howard, the former San Francisco Silent Film Festival intern and current University of Arizona Media Arts grad student, just signed on as Tucson's "Classic Movies Examiner" on (a news website with branches across the country). Howard's work can be found at

Howard's first article concerns an upcoming African American filmmakers symposium at the University of Arizona. It spotlights the work of Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee, and Noland Walker. The four-day symposium starts February 3rd. Among the works being screened is a 16mm print of Micheaux's 1925 film Body and Soul, starring Paul Robeson.
And among the symposium's special guests is the acclaimed author and Micheaux scholar Pearl Bowser. She will be on hand for a screening of her 1994 documentary Midnight Ramble: Oscar Micheaux and the Story of Race Movies.

In 2001, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened Micheaux's Within our Gates (1920). Howard, who hopes to work as a film archivist, was a Festival intern in 2009. A good starting point with more about Micheaux can be found here.