Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A wordless sound film

The 1929 film, Diary of a Lost Girl (which the Silent Film Festival will screen July 17th), figures in this new short film from France. Loving Louise Brooks is a wordless sound film, in effect a “silent film,” though with a musical soundtrack. What's remarkable about it is that it is a student film, the work of Sebastian Pesle and other film students at the Lycee Jean-Batiste Corot. It is an 11 minute work which speaks not only to the vagaries of young love, but also to cinematic obsession – and the times when those forces collide. It is a very true film, and, we think, one cineastes will appreciate.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Early San Francisco film wins preservation grant

In the past, this blog has written about sponsored films made in communities around Northern California. Sponsored films, which are akin to industrial and educational films, were made for a commercial or civic entity and meant to promote something. They can be interesting on many levels.

Recently, a San Francisco sponsored film has come to light. The person who will help oversee its preservation is Rob Byrne, Vice President of the Silent Film Festival Board of Directors, and a newly minted  film preservationist.

Just recently, he applied for and won (on behalf of the Niles Essanay Film Museum) a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve a rare early film sure to be of interest to everyone in The City. The film is Twin Peaks Tunnel (1917), a "sponsored film" meant to promote the development of San Francisco's western districts. More about this "unique historical and cultural artifact" can be found on examiner.com 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weekend update #14

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) Back in 2001, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates (1920). For those in attendance, the film proved to be a revelation - not only regarding Micheaux's many talents (he wrote and directed this film), but as one example of the vibrant world of African-American cinema during the silent era. Now, the United States Postal Service is recognizing Micheaux's accomplishments with a stamp. On June 22, Micheaux joined the ranks of individuals included in what is now one of the longest-running commemorative postal series, "Black Heritage." The pioneering filmmaker wrote, directed, produced, and distributed more than 40 movies during the first half of the 20th century. Another outstanding example of early African-American film, The Flying Ace (1926), will be shown at this year's Festival on Saturday, July 17th.

2) The forthcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival has gotten some early press. Our friends at the Goethe Institute took notice of the two German films which will be screened in July, the restored Metropolis and a beautiful print of The Diary of a Lost Girl, and wrote them up on their website. Actually, the Goethe Institute San Francisco are co-presenters of each film. Danke schön! The Metropolis screening also got a shout out on the Huffington Post recently. And earlier, both the San Francisco Chronicle and IndieWire ran small articles on the upcoming event.

3) Daisy D'Ora, one of the very last surviving German actresses whose career date from the silent era, has died. D'Ora was 97 years old. In 1955, though she had only a brief career in film. Time magazine described her as “one of the more curvesome ornaments of Germany's silver screen.” 

D’Ora was discovered at the age of 15 by director G.W. Pabst, who noticed her in a cosmetics advertisement. He cast her in a small role in Pandora's Box, her first film. In it, D’Ora plays Charlotte, the youthful fiancée of the lder Dr. Schon, played by Fritz Kortner. She was 16 years old when it debuted in Berlin in February, 1929. (The Silent Film Festival screened Pandora's Box in 2006.) After Pandora's Box, she appeared in only a few more films. In 1929, she played in Der Mann, der nicht liebt with Gustav Diessel (Jack the Ripper in Pandora’s Box) and in Es flüstert die Nacht (Hungarian Nights), with Lil Dagover. Her last film, in 1930, was Nur am Rhein, and starred Truus Van Aalten. 

D’Ora was also a model and beauty contestant - and by chance, she met the famous writer Erich Maria Remarque. He encouraged her to take part in a beauty contest. She won, and as a result, was sent as “Miss Germany” to the United States for the 1931 Miss Universe contest. D’Ora placed fourth, and took home a $150.00 prize. D’Ora’s beauty was of such renown that a famous German vocal group of the time, the Comedian Harmonists, even referenced her in a song, "Hello, what are you doing today, Daisy." More about the actress can be found on this article on examiner.com. D'Ora is pictured below. The hands that hold her portrait belong to Louise Brooks, in a scene from Pandora's Box.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Guest blogger: Brent Walker on Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand's visit to San Francisco

Our guest blogger is Brent Walker. He is a Los Angeles-based film historian and the author / co-author of a couple of worthwhile books on film, including the recently released Mack Sennett's Fun Factory (McFarland). We wrote about this outstanding work on the blog back in March. Back then, we said "One of the big film books of the year is certainly Mack Sennett's Fun Factory, by Brent E. Walker. This mighty handsome, nearly two inch thick, almost four pound, 663 page history of all things Mack Sennett is a remarkable work of scholarship - as well as a great read. And, it is chock full of surprising detail."

We were hoping the author would be able to join us at this year's Silent Film Festival, but due to a prior commitment, he wasn't able to make it. Instead, he sent us this fascinating piece about Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Mabel Normand's own visit to San Francisco. We loved reading it, and think you will too. For more visit http://macksennett.blogspot.com/


San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition attracted an estimated 17 million visitors to the city over the course of nine months in 1915. Among them was a small contingent of performers and crew from Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company, who made the 400 mile trek north from Los Angeles during the fourth week in March to film what would be a one-reel (approximately 10-15 minute) film entitled Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco. The stars of the film were Mabel Normand and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who were no strangers to the city by the bay. Weekend excursions to San Francisco were a regular part of the recreational activities of many of those in Los Angeles’ still-young movie colony. (And of course for Arbuckle, another San Francisco trip six years later would result in infamy for Arbuckle when he was accused of rape and murder in the death of Virginia Rappe—though acquitted in his third trial, after the first two trials resulted in hung juries, Arbuckle would be banned from the screen by Hollywood censorship czar Will Hays.)

This 1915 trip by Arbuckle and Normand was not the first time Keystone director general Mack Sennett’s personnel had visited the city on a professional basis. In 1913, director Henry Lehrman and a camera crew had filmed the events surrounding the Portola Festival, including the grand parade down Market Street on October 22, 1913. These events appeared in a one-reel film entitled San Francisco Celebration, which is not known to exist. Also filmed during Lehrman’s 10 day trip was a general travelogue entitled San Francisco and Her Environs. Though this film is also believed lost, a third documentary film made by Lehrman during this same October 1913 period survives in the film archives of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and is a priceless historical document. The film, Protecting San Francisco from Fire, shows the extreme measures being taken to prevent a reoccurrence of the disaster that struck the city just seven years earlier in 1906. Included in the film are demonstrations of various then high-tech fire-fighting apparatus and alarms, as well as fire trucks driving up and down the hills of the city and scenes of a fireboat whose water cannons can reach many of the city’s buildings from its perch in San Francisco harbor. The Library of Congress also holds a print of a Keystone actuary film made in December 1914, called With the U.S. Army in San Francisco. This film shows various activities at the U.S. Army base in the Presidio.

Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand made three films during their month-long visit to San Francisco and the Bay Area, which latest from at least March 25 until April 18, 1915. Besides the aforementioned Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco—which included a tour of the city, the exposition and meetings with luminaries such as Mayor James Rolph—Arbuckle and Normand also journeyed across the bay to Oakland for a comedy entitled Mabel’s Wilful Way. Filmed from April 11 to April 18, this one-reeler was made at Oakland’s long-gone Idora Park amusement facility (where Arbuckle had earlier appeared during his days in vaudeville).

Between those two still-surviving films, Arbuckle, Normand, and six other Keystone performers (including Monterey-native Edgar Kennedy) journeyed to Golden Gate Park to make a largely-improvised comedy entitled Wished on Mabel. Keystone records show that the film began production on Saturday, March 27, and concluded on Monday, April 5, 1915. However, some of that period overlaps the recorded dates for the filming of Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World’s Fair at San Francisco, and it is doubtful that Wished on Mabel took many more than one or two days to shoot. Wished on Mabel captures some elements of the park that have changed, and some that remain remarkably the same.

Early in Wished on Mabel, Roscoe Arbuckle is seen standing on a bridge with the Victorian-era Conservatory of Flowers (located in the northeast corner of the park off John Kennedy Drive) in the background.

Built in 1878, the structure (the oldest building in Golden Gate Park, and the oldest municipal wooden conservatory remaining in the United States) looks unchanged today, as does the bridge where Arbuckle stood,

which can also be seen in a reverse angle looking from the conservatory toward the bridge.

The action in Wished on Mabel later moves westward in Golden Gate Park to Stowe Lake, which surrounds a very large island called Strawberry Hill. Mabel Normand is viewed sitting on a park bench near Rustic Bridge, built in 1893, which crosses over to the island on the south side.

Another view of the bridge is seen in a shot featuring Joe Bordeaux (running toward the camera) and Frankie Dolan (reading a paper on the park bench).

Though the pathway has been paved, the bench long since replaced and the trees and foliage have grown conserably since 1915, the bridge looks very much the same.

Bordeaux is then seen on Strawberry Hill island, on a stone walkway beneath a waterfall.

Do to probable replacement of stones and landscaping changes, it is difficult to pinpoint whether this is the same location or a similar one, but it is very similar.

Wished on Mabel offers a glimpse of Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand in happier times, before their troubles of the 1920’s (only five months after Arbuckle’s implication in Virginia Rappe’s death, Normand also had her reputation besmirched when she was questioned — though never a serious subject — in the still-unsolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor). However, the film also serves as a visual time capsule — preserving views of various portions of Golden Gate Park as they appeared nearly 100 years ago.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This handsome fellow

This handsome fellow was an American actor who was quite popular during the silent and early sound era. Not only was he a leading man, but he appeared in a number of still highly-regarded films - one of which (Sunrise) has been screened at past Silent Film Festivals, and one which (The Iron Horse) will be screened at this summer's event. And what's more, this notable film star was born and raised in San Francisco. Who is he?

His name is George O'Brien. And, he is the subject of a fine new biography by David W. Menefee titled George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood (BearManor Media). The pictures shown here, and a number of others like it too revealing to run in a family newspaper, can be found in this new book.

George O'Brien (1899 – 1985) enjoyed a long career in film. Born in San Francisco on Clementina Street and a survivor of the 1906 earthquake,  O'Brien was the oldest son of Daniel and Margaret O'Brien. His father later became the Chief of Police for the City of San Francisco, and ordered the arrest of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in 1921 in the wake of the now tragic Labor Day party held by Arbuckle

O'Brien came to Hollywood in his early twenties hoping to become a cameraman, and worked as an assistant cameraman for both Tom Mix and Buck Jones. He began his acting career in bit parts and as a stuntman. One of his earliest roles was in the 1922 George Melford-directed drama Moran of the Lady Letty, most notable for starring Rudolph Valentino and for having been filmed in San Francisco.

In 1924, O'Brien received his first starring role in the drama The Man Who Came Back opposite the English actress Dorothy Mackaill. That same year he was chosen by  director John Ford to star in The Iron Horse opposite actress Madge Bellamy. The film was an immense success at the box-office - and O'Brien went on to make nine more films for Ford. In 1927 he starred in the F. W. Murnau-directed Sunrise opposite Janet Gaynor; that film won three Academy Awards. O'Brien also starred in Noah's Ark, directed by Michael Curtiz.

O'Brien spent the remainder of the 1920s as a popular leading man, often starring in action and adventure roles alongside popular actresses of the day such as Alma Rubens, Anita Stewart, Dolores Costello, Madge Bellamy, Olive Borden (with whom he was linked romantically during the 1920s) and Janet Gaynor. 

With the advent of sound, O'Brien became a popular star of Westerns and seldom took parts outside the Western genre. Throughout the 1930s, O'Brien was a consistent Top Ten box-office draw.

David W. Menefee's new 436-page book, George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood, tells his remarkable story. The book includes an extensive filmography, bibliography, and photo section. David W. Menefee will be signing copies of his new book on Thursday, July 15 following the screening of The Iron Horse

Those who attend this special book signing can ask the Texas-based author why a major Hollywood star would pose for such revealing, oops, we mean artistic, images.

Monday, June 21, 2010


One of the much anticipated book signings at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival will be with Ira Resnick, the author of Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters froom Classic Hollywood. Resnick, a renown collector of film posters, will be signing books Thursday night (following The Iron Horse) and Saturday night (following Diary of a Lost Girl). 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book and DVD signing schedule

In what's shaping up to be a mini-festival within a festival, more than a dozen film historians, biographers, archivists and authors will gather at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Please join us on the mezzanine of the Castro Theater and meet some of the many individuals helping keep silent film before the public eye. Here is the line-up of signings for this July's event. (Book and DVD signings follow screenings. Times are approximate.)


9:30 pm   David W. Menefee – George O'Brien: A Man’s Man In Hollywood
9:30 pm   Ira Resnick – Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood


12:30 pm   Diana Serra Cary – Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy?

4:00 pm   Richie Meyer – Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai
4:00 pm   Elaine Mae Woo – Anna May Wong, Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life,
                 Times and Legend

7:30 pm   Eddie Muller –  Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir
7:30 pm   Scott O’Brien – Ann Harding - Cinema's Gallant Lady
7:30 pm   Sarah Baker – Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell


11:15 am   Leonard Maltin –  Leonard Maltin's 151 Best Movies You've Never Seen
11:15 am   Pete Docter –  The Art of Up, Moster's Inc (DVD), Up (DVD),

1:30 pm   Festival musicians signing their CDs and DVDs

3:30 pm   Robert Dix –  Out of Hollywood
3:30 pm   William Wellman Jr. – The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and    
                 the Making of the First Best Picture

3:30 pm   Jeffrey Vance - Douglas Fairbanks

5:30 pm   Kevin Brownlow - The Parade's Gone By, along with his DVDs

8:45 pm   Thomas Gladysz – The Diary of a Lost Girl (Louise Brooks edition)
8:45 pm   Samuel Bernstein – Lulu: A Novel
8:45 pm   Ira Resnick – Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood


11:15 am  Gregory Paul Williams – The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History
11:15 am  David Kiehn – Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company
11:15 am  David Shepard  – Chicago (DVD)
11:15 am  Elaine Mae Woo – Anna May Wong, Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, 
                 Times and Legend

1:30 pm  Anthony Slide –  Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine
1:30 pm  Lucy Autry Wilson (with David Kiehn) – George Lucas's Blockbusting
4:00 pm  Donna Hill  (with Emily Leider) –  Rudolph Valentino, The Silent Idol: His
                Life in Photographs

6:30 pm   Kevin Brownlow - The Parade's Gone By
6:30 pm   Jeffrey Vance - Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian
6:30 pm   John Bengtson – Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the
                 Films of Charlie Chaplin

6:30 pm   David W. Menefee – Sarah Bernhardt in the Theatre of Films and Sound

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some helpful pages

If you're thinking about attending the upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival - here are some helpful pages you'll want to know about. It's never too late to participate - either as an attendee, volunteer, of sponsor. Harry Langdon, one of the many stars who will be featured at this year's Festival, is wondering what you will do.

The complete line-up of films, along with each's corresponding musical accompanist and special guests, can be found at http://filmguide.silentfilm.org/tixSYS/2010/filmguide/

General ticket info, including info on advance tickets, day of show / will call, and discounts & passes, can be found at http://filmguide.silentfilm.org/event-tickets.php

Venue info, including location, directions and accessibility, can be found at http://filmguide.silentfilm.org/event-venue.php

Hotel info, including special discounts for out-of-town attendees, can be found at http://filmguide.silentfilm.org/event-hotels.php

It's never too late to volunteer. An application form for those interested in becoming a Festival volunteer can be found at http://filmguide.silentfilm.org/media/etc/volunteer_application_2006.pdf

Information about some of the Festival sponsors can be found at http://filmguide.silentfilm.org/event-sponsors.php

Interested in making a donation or becoming a member? Visit https://secure.silentfilm.org/tixSYS/2010/memberships/selection.php

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New brochures for 2010

The brochure for this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival is hot off the press, and if we say so ourselves, it looks great!

The Festival takes place July 15-18th at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco.

The actress on the cover is none other than Louise Brooks. That's because the 1929 G.W. Pabst film, Diary of a Lost Girl, starring Louise Brooks, will be shown as this year's centerpiece film. It's the Founders Presentation choice, selected by SFSFF Founders Melissa Chittick and Stephen Salmons.

Along with a great line up of films and special guests, these beautifully designed keepsake brochures are just one more reason to attend this year's Festival . . . . Don't miss it! Individual tickets are on sale now. AND, Festival passes, which admit you to all sixteen programs including the opening night film (The Iron Horse) can be purchased either on line or in person at Books Inc (located in the Castro District at 2275 Market Street).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Weekend update #13

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) Things are picking up . . . . a handful of special guests have been added to this July's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. As was mentioned earlier on the blog, Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation will give a presentation on the subject of the recently announced discovery of silent films in New Zealand. Melville's talk will take place during the Sunday morning program, ""Amazing Tales from the Archive: First the Bad News... then the Good!," on July 18 at 10 am.

2) But wait, that's not all. Renown film preservationist David Shepard, who's had a hand in the restoration of more films (and their subsequent release on on DVD) than can be readily numbered, will also be in attendance. David will be signing copies of the forthcoming Flicker Alley DVD, Chicago (1927). David also mentioned that he will bring along a few copies of his now hard-to-find book on Director Henry King, whose 1928 film, The Woman Disputed, starring Norma Talmadge, should prove to be one of the great discoveries of the Festival. Of this film, Kevin Brownlow said, "I have just seen The Woman Disputed and it’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking. The plot takes Maupaussant’s "Boule de Suif" to extremes, but it succeeds so well as a brilliant piece of film craft that it MUST be brought back to life."

Annette Melville and David Shepard are not the only recent additions to the line-up of special guests. Actor, producer, and author William Wellman Jr., the son of the great director, has also been added to the roster. Wellman will be signing copies of his truly fine book, The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture. AND, also just added is a real life movie star from the silent film era, Diana Serra Cary! During the 1920's, Cary was known as "Baby Peggy." She was, along with Jackie Coogan, one of the most famous child actors of the time. Cary will be signing copies of her books, including the highly recommended What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star. The complete, updated, and annotated schedule of author signings will be posted to this blog sometime this week.

3) One of the authors we hoped to lure down to the Festival was Michael G. Ankerich. He lives in the Pacific Northwest, and is the author of Broken Silence: Conversations With 23 Silent Film Stars and The Sound of Silence: Conversations With 16 Film and Stage Personalities Who Bridged the Gap Between Silents and Talkies. Recently, Ankerich co-authored a book by and about an actress who got her start in the silent era. That book is The Real Joyce Compton: Behind the Dumb Blond Movie Image. There will be copies for sale at the Festival. However, its author won't be able to make it because he is busy at work on a new project - a biography of the silent film star Mae Murray! We are certainly looking forward to that book!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In the news . . . . and coming to the SFSFF

The big news in the film world is the discovery of a treasure trove of once lost films from the silent era. Earlier this week, the New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation (located here in San Francisco) announced a partnership to preserve and make available some 75 American motion pictures which no longer survive in the United States.

The story garnered headlines around the world. In New Zealand, it was covered by the NZTV website, as well as the New Zealand Herald and Wellington Post. Elsewhere, the BBC in England and the CBC in Canada covered it. In the United States, the story received substantial play in Variety and the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Locally, the San Francisco Chronicle ran the widely syndicated AP story.

National Public Radio also broadcast a story. (Click on the NPR link to listen to an archived recording.) In it, Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation can be heard commenting on the importance of this extraordinary find. Melville will, as well, give a presentation on the subject at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Sunday free program, "Amazing Tales from the Archive: First the Bad News... then the Good!" on July 18.

And of course, on July 16th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will present the year's other big film discovery / restoration - Fritz Lang's Metropolis. At that special presentation, the Argentine archivists who uncovered Lang's long lost reels will talk about their extraordinary find. Both of these special presentations are not to be missed, sez Mabel Normand.

Image courtesy of the National Film Preservation Foundation

Monday, June 7, 2010

Treasure trove of silent films found

The New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation (which has its home here in San Francisco) has announced a partnership to preserve and make available an astonishing collection of 75 American motion pictures which no longer survive in the United States.

According to the NFPF press release, issued today, "The 'lost' films will be preserved over the next three years and accessed through the five major American silent film archives: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which are collaborating with the NFPF on this project. Copies of the complete films will also be publicly available in New Zealand and viewable on the NFPF Web site."

 Image: National Film Preservation Foundation

This major story in the silent film world has already received substantial coverage in Variety and the New York Times. Among the films which have come to light are those directed by or starring John Ford, Mabel Normand, Pearl White, Clara Bow, and others. Highlights of this remarkable find include:

The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies—Episode 5, The Chinese Fan (Edison Manufacturing Co., 1914). In this episode of the famous serial (previously entirely lost in the United States), ace woman reporter Dolly Desmond, played by Mary Fuller, rescues the editor’s daughter from kidnappers and gets the scoop. In the early 1910s, on-going serial narratives starring intrepid heroines lured female moviegoers back to the theater week after week.

Billy and his Pal (George Méliès / American Wild West Film Company, 1911), a Western filmed in San Antonio, Texas, and the earliest surviving film featuring Francis Ford. The actor-director introduced the movie business to his younger brother, John, who soon blossomed as director. Released in New Zealand as Bobby and his Pal.

Idle Wives (Universal Moving Pictures, 1916), the first reel of a Lois Weber feature in which a film inspires three sets of moviegoers to remake their lives. More of the film exists at the Library of Congress.

Mary of the Movies (Columbia Pictures, 1923), Hollywood comedy about a young woman seeking stardom in the movies. This first surviving film from Columbia Pictures exists in an incomplete copy.

Maytime (B.P. Schulberg Productions, 1923), a feature with Clara Bow in an early role. Nitrate deterioration has reached the point where “blooms” are starting to eat away at the emulsion.

Upstream (Fox Film Corporaton, 1927), a feature directed by four-time Academy Award winner John Ford. Only 15% of the silent-era films by the celebrated director are known to survive. This tale of backstage romance stars Nancy Nash and Earle Foxe.

The Woman Hater (Power Picture Plays, 1910), a one-reel comedy starring serial queen Pearl White.

Won in a Closet (Keystone Film Company, 1914), the first surviving movie directed by and starring Mabel Normand. Released in New Zealand as Won in a Cupboard.

Be sure and visit the National Film Preservation Foundation website, where clips and images from these newly found films can be viewed. And what's more, Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation will give a presentation on the subject of this extraordinary find at the free program, "Amazing Tales from the Archive: First the Bad News... then the Good!" at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on July 18 at 10am.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Weekend update #12

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) As our neighbors at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont conclude this weekend's "Chaplin Days" celebration, word has gotten out that a previously unknown Chaplin film has been uncovered. The film, A Thief Catcher (1914), will be shown at this year's Slapsticon in Washington D.C. Directed by Henry Lehrman and featuring Keystone regulars Ford Sterling, Mack Swain, and Edgar Kennedy, A Thief Catcher  includes a young Charlie Chaplin making what Slapsticon describes as “an extended and very funny cameo as a policeman.” It's only a small role, but its discovery by film historian Paul E. Gierucki gives hope that other lost or unknown Chaplin work might one day come to light.

2) Recently, this blog was the recipient of a couple of nice comments on other blogs, including The Bioscope, which described us as "very active," and The Silent Movie Blog, which noted that we have a "good blog." Thank you. This blog got its start late last year. And Friday's post, about new educational and programming initiatives, was its 100th post in 2010. We're just getting started. . . .

3) Yesterday, we wrote a bit about Häxan, Benjamin Christensen’s fantastic 1922 silent film about witchcraft. The more one reads about it, the more bizarre it seems. Did you know, for example, that in 1968 an abbreviated version of the film (77 minutes long as opposed to the original 104 minutes) was released. That version, entitled Witchcraft Through The Ages, featured an eclectic jazz score by Daniel Humair (performed by a quintet which included Jean-Luc Ponty on violin) and dramatic narration by none other than William S. Burroughs! The restored version screened on July 17th at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival will feature a score commissioned by the Swedish Film Institute from the acclaimed silent film composer by Matti Bye.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Häxan - Witchcraft Through The Ages

Häxan (in English titled Witchcraft Through The Ages) is likely one of the most unusual silent films you'll ever see. Truly. Benjamin Christensen’s legendary 1922 film uses a series of dramatic vignettes to explore the hypothesis that witches of the Middle Ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients. The film itself, however, is far from deadly serious — instead, it’s a witches’ brew of the scary and darkly humorous.

Here is some of what Wikipedia has to say about this often bizarre and seldom screened work.

"Häxan is a 1922  Swedish/Danish silent film written and directed by Benjamin Christensen. Based partly on Christensen's study of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century German guide for inquisitors, Häxan is a study of how superstition  and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch-hunts. The film was made as a documentary but contains dramatized sequences that are comparable to horror films. With Christensen's meticulous recreation of medieval scenes and the lengthy production period, the film was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made, costing nearly two million Swedish krona. Although it won acclaim in Denmark and Sweden, the film was banned in the United States and heavily censored in other countries for what were considered at that time graphic depictions of torture, nudity, and sexual perversion." Sound fun, doesn't it."

A 35mm restored and tinted print, from the Swedish Film Institute, will be screened on July 17th at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. If you are a witch, or know a witch, or want to become a witch, be sure NOT to miss this fantastic film!

Friday, June 4, 2010

New educational and programming initiatives

The Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has recently awarded the Silent Film Festival a grant, making it possible for the festival to expand its educational and programming initiatives. The grant provides special support for the following programs:

For its 15th Anniversary event, the Festival shines a spotlight on its musical component with a new program: "Variations on a Theme: Musicians on the Craft of Composing and Performing for Silent Film" (Saturday, July 17, 12 noon). This special moderated event will give the audience the chance to hear from the Festival’s extraordinary musicians about what goes into making a silent film score. Chloe Veltman, regular contributor to The New York Times and producer and host of public radio’s "VoiceBox," will moderate. This program is co-presented by City Arts and Lectures and San Francisco Performances.

The festival is also pleased to announce this year’s featured director for the Director’s Pick program­ - Academy Award-winner Pete Docter. Docter, who directed Pixar hits Monsters, Inc. and Up, has selected the comedy shorts program "The Big Business of Short, Funny Films" (Saturday, July 17, 10:00 am), and will be interviewed onstage by Leonard Maltin. “Pixar’s artists seem to have an affinity for the visual storytelling of the silent era,” said Silent Film Festival Artistic Director Anita Monga, “and of course, great senses of humor. We’re thrilled to have Docter present some of the funniest moments on film to our audience.”

This year, the hugely popular "Amazing Tales from the Archives" program, created in 2006 to highlight the importance of film preservation, will have two iterations. For the first (Friday, July 16, 11:30 am)­, "Lost and Found Films from the Silent Era­," Joe Lindner of the Academy Film Archive returns with fascinating film fragments from the Academy’s collection, and Paula-Félix Didier and Fernando Peña of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires will discuss their extraordinary find­ - the discovery of Fritz Lang’s original version of Metropolis, thought lost for 80 years!

The festival offers two engrossing presentations for the second Amazing Tales program - "First the Bad News… and then the Good!" (Sunday, July 18, 10:00 am). Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress will use film clips and slides to reveal the devastating reality of American silent film survival rates. To end on a happier note, Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation will report on international film repatriation projects that are preserving and making available American silent films that have been unseen in this country for decades. This presentation will include the newly preserved print of the Mutt and Jeff cartoon On Strike.

For complete program information, please visit the Silent Film Festival website. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yvonne Stevens, silent-film actress, dies at age 104

Yvonne Stevens, a silent-film comedic actress, has died at age 104. She was also the first wife of Academy Award-winning director George Stevens. Yvonne Stevens' death was reported in the Washington Post and elsewhere.

According to the Washington Post article, "Mrs. Stevens was a "bathing beauty" for slapstick comedy innovator Mack Sennett in the 1920s and had supporting roles in a handful of films under the name Yvonne Howell. They included the drama "Fashions for Women" (1927), helmed by the pioneering female director Dorothy Arzner; and the western "Somewhere in Sonora" (1927), opposite the popular cowboy star Ken Maynard. . . . In 1928, Yvonne Howell met George Stevens, then a novice cameraman, at comedian Oliver Hardy's house. They married in 1930."