Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joan of Arc film to be shown here

On Tuesday, the Silent Film Festival announced it would co-sponsor (along with the Pacific Film Archive and Paramount Theatre) a special screening of the 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. This special screening, set for December 2 at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, will combines the performance of Richard Einhorn’s acclaimed choral and orchestral work "Voices of Light" with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic film.

For more information and ticket availability, please visit the Silent Film Festival website.

We are not sure when the first screening of Dreyer's masterpiece took place in the San Francisco Bay Area, but we do know that one of the earliest showings also took place in Oakland. As the newspaper clippings below tells, The Passion of Joan of Arc was shown at Mills College on Halloween night, October 31, 1929. Before hand, a talk was given by an educator who headed the Cinema Society of California. (Does anyone know anything about the history of this group - especially their activities in the 1920's or 1930's ? It is known, for example, that in the 1920's this pioneering group screened films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Battleship Potempkin, etc....)

The article references the first showing of the film in the United States, some six months earlier at the Little Carnegie Playhouse in New York City. Though the film was well thought of then (it has "significance"), it seems not to have enjoyed mainstream theatrical release. Instead, as an European silent film at the dawn of the talkie era, it made the rounds of art houses and school film programs where "Off-campus people" were welcomed.

However, despite the mention in the first article (on the left) that the Mills College screening would be the "only one in the bay region," the film seems to have also been screened on the UC Berkeley campus around the same time, as this newspaper advertisement suggests.

The efforts of local colleges in promoting classic films seems to have continued over the years, especially in regards to The Passion of Joan of Arc. In March, 1964 the Oakland City College screened Carl Dreyer’s film along with Anemic Cinema by Marcel Duchamp.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Special event: The Pasion of Joan of Arc

The Pacific Film Archive, Paramount Theatre, and the Silent Film Festival are thrilled to announce a presentation of VOICES OF LIGHT/THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, an Oratorio with Silent Film on Thursday, December 2 at 7:30pm at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre. This event combines the performance of Richard Einhorn’s choral and orchestral work "Voices of Light" with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Dreyer’s depiction of the trial and execution of Joan of Arc is rightfully canonized as one of cinema’s masterpieces. The film combines the actual written records of the trial with a style that draws on French Impressionism, German Expressionism, and Soviet Montage to create a visually breathtaking and emotionally intimate portrayal of the young woman’s interrogation and last moments. As Joan, Maria Falconetti gives what “may be the finest performance ever recorded on film” (Pauline Kael).

The composition "Voices of Light," scored by Richard Einhorn for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, “sublimely matches one of the great films of all time” (Chicago Sun-Times). "Voices of Light" will be conducted on December 2 by Dr. Mark Sumner and performed by a chorus of 200 voices and a twenty-two piece orchestra. Dr. Sumner and the University of California Alumni Chorus will be joined by the women of UC Berkeley’s Perfect Fifth; tenor soloist Daniel Ebbers and baritone soloist Martin Bell; and UC Men’s and Women’s Chorales.

For  more information and ticket availability, please visit the Silent Film Festival website.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kevin Brownlow discusses his life as a film archivist

If you missed Kevin Brownlow's book signings and introductions to films at the July Silent Film Festival, here's your chance to catch up with the recent Academy Award winner. Video of Brownlow's three part talk, "My Life in Archives," can be found online. It is also embedded below. The Jane Mercer Memorial Lecture, "My Life In Archives," with guest speaker Kevin Brownlow was held at the London Television Centre on May 5th, 2010. All together, the three video clips run just short of an hour.

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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

San Francisco novelist Glen David Gold talks about Charlie Chaplin

Glen David Gold is a San Francisco writer and a film enthusiast, as well as a regular at past festivals.

His 2001 novel, Carter Beats the Devil - inspired by the life of the early 20th century magician Charles Carter, was a national bestseller. (It’s currently in development as a feature film for possible release in 2013.) His second novel, Sunnyside (pictured left), was published to great acclaim in 2009. It’s based on incidents in the life of Charlie Chaplin. The book was released in softcover in May (pictured below).

Chaplin, the legendary silent film star, is undergoing something of a revival of late. There are a couple of new books out about the "Little Tramp," a boxed set of his Keystone comedies is about to be released through Flicker Alley, and a touring retrospective of Chaplin's best and best-known films is making its way around the country.

That retrospective comes to the Castro Theater in San Francisco for a five day run starting Saturday, September 18th. Gold will introduce the opening night program, which includes The Circus (1928, 72 min.), The Idle Class (1921, 32 min.), and A Day’s Pleasure (1919, 19 min.). Recently, the San Francisco writer agreed to answer some questions about Chaplin and his own interest in early film.

Thomas Gladysz: How and when did you first come to discover Charlie Chaplin?

Glen David Gold:
I was a Marx Brothers fan as a kid, and what appealed was the verbal interchange, the puns, the insults, tempered by Harpo's sweet nature. Plus: the brotherly romping. When my parents saw I liked old movies, they introduced Chaplin, who left me cold -- he didn't have any of those qualities, really. I rediscovered him in my 20s when I saw a Buster Keaton film, The General, and realized Keaton was a genius. There seems to be a Marvel vs. DC feeling about Keaton and Chaplin, and I figured if I liked Keaton I'd not be interested in Chaplin. Wrong.

Thomas Gladysz: Why Chaplin? What does he mean to you? Does he stand out among the early film greats?

Glen David Gold: He was the first person to understand the relationship among audience, hero and camera. He understood that the audience felt they knew you, and that they were projecting themselves into any given situation. Happily he also had more physical control of his body than most people ("a god damned ballet dancer," right?) and he also had the patience to figure out the nuances of a gag.

And off-screen, what a life! If you think about it (and I do), in 1914, Chaplin was just another comedian, Hollywood was just another orange grove and America was just a big industrial combine without much of a worldview. In 1918, he was the most famous man in the world, Hollywood the most known city in the world, and America was, well, America. It's no coincidence that all three things happened at once.

If, bizarrely, someone in your readership hasn't seen a Chaplin in a theater with an audience before, they're in for a treat at the Castro. Seeing a Chaplin with people is extraordinary. It's like going to a concert for the first time.

Thomas Gladysz: Your 2009 novel, Sunnyside, is based on incidents in the life of the legendary comedian. It’s also populated with some of the personalities of the time, like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. What brought you to write the book? What was its genesis?

Glen David Gold: The night we were "liberating" Baghdad, and they had American television for the first time, there was a program on that was a beauty pageant for dogs. I was thinking, "Wow, this could be the worst collision of cultures ever. Like: what could they think?" Then I wanted to understand the relationship between entertainment and war, and I learned that when the Germans and Russians fought allied troops, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin films were prized booty. Now how weird is that? The people you hate have entertainment you love. So I figured I'd go back to the source."

Thomas Gladysz:
You once mentioned that your great aunt Ingrid, a journalist, was Chaplin's neighbor in Switzerland – and that family legend has it he dictated parts of his autobiography to her. What more can you tell us?

Glen David Gold: To tell the truth, I've never asked further questions of my family, as I don't want to have it ruined. However, my cousin just presented me with a lovely photo of Chaplin and Ingrid together in the 1950s. My hunch is that he read sections aloud to her and asked for comment -- as I recall, he did the same with several visitors, including Truman Capote. (Now that would have been a ghost writer.)

Thomas Gladysz: You’ve described yourself as “a fan of the inexplicable.” What did you mean?

Glen David Gold:
The difference between a novel and a tract is that the fanatic knows the answers beforehand and is going to enlighten you. I like not knowing things, and being surprised when something I could never have predicted comes along. It makes me feel alive.

Thomas Gladysz: Would you describe yourself as a fan of silent film? Any other favorite films or stars?

Glen David Gold:
Not to suck up or anything, but Louise Brooks is the obvious #1 crush for any thinking human being. I also dig the silent Rin Tin Tin films, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford (that took some convincing, though -- I really bought into the "sentimentalist" label before looking closely), and George Melies.

More info: Ticket availability and further information about the Chaplin screenings at the Castro Theater can be found on the Castro website at Gold’s Sunnyside can be found online or at independent bookstores.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend update #18

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 today's New York Times, there is a must-read story on the life of F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre - a noted sci-fi writer and film buff who took his own life in June. He was an "eccentric" with a divided reputation. His reputation in the film world (which is not addressed in the NYT) rests on his having written reviews of lost films - as if he had just seen them. Of course, he hadn't - though he sometimes claimed to have seen them. This drove the film world and film historians a bit crazy. Now, some say, his life would make a good movie.

2) Next Saturday, the retrospective of Chaplin films touring the country comes to the Castro Theater. Janus Films is presenting this touring retrospective - in cooperation with MK2 and the Chaplin estate - of the comedian's best films.

3) The rarely screened 1926 Louise Brooks film, Love Em and Leave Em, will be shown at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont on October 9. This delightful Frank Tuttle-directed film tells the story of two sisters - one good (Evelyn Brent) and one bad (Louise Brooks) - who share a boyfriend (San Francisco-born Lawrence Gray) while both are employed at a department store. Trouble ensues. . . . It's one of Brooks' best American silents. The last time Love Em and Leave Em was publicly screened in the Bay Area was on November 21, 2006 in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library.The first time is was screened in the Bay Area was at the California Theater in Pittsburg on December 14, 1926.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

List of once lost films announced

Last week's screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the John Ford silent, Upstream (1927), might well be the first of many such screenings.  

Upstream is one of a number of films recently uncovered in New Zealand. Over the next few years, it and others will be repatriated, preserved and made available at the Academy Film Archive and at four other major American film archives, in collaboration with the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Last week, the complete list of uncovered films was announced. Of the 75 titles identified for preservation, more than 90 percent are thought to survive nowhere else. The remaining 10 percent represent the best surviving source material. The complete list, along with a few images and preview, can be found on this page. Here are a few highlights.
  • The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies—Episode 5, The Chinese Fan (Edison, 1914), episode of the famous serial in which ace reporter Dolly Desmond, played by Mary Fuller, rescues a kidnapped girl and gets the scoop (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
  • Albert Spalding Playing Cavatina by Raft (Vitaphone, 1929), early sound film featuring American violinist and composer Albert Spalding (Library of Congress).
  • American Co-Op Weekly (producer unknown, 1917?), newsreel featuring stories related to World War I (George Eastman House).
  • A Bashful Bigamist (Vanity Comedies, ca. 1922), one-reel farce, starring Billy Bletcher, in which a wife plots to keep her husband at home (Museum of Modern Art).
  • Defying Destiny (Rellimeo Film Syndicate, 1923), melodrama in which a wronged man, played by Monte Blue, changes his appearance through plastic surgery and returns home to reclaim his good name and win his girl (George Eastman House).
  • An Easter “Lily” (Vitagraph, 1914), fragment from a drama about the friendship between a white boy and the daughter of his family’s African American servant (Library of Congress).
  • His Neglected Wife (U.S. Motion Pictures Corp., ca. 1919), comedy about a writer’s neglected wife who devises her own story to make her point (George Eastman House).
  • Hold ‘Em Yale (De Mille Pictures Corp., 1928), college romance, based on the play by Owen Davis, about an Argentinean football player at Yale. This film will be preserved through a collaboration of Sony Pictures and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  • Hollywood Snapshots (producer unknown, ca. 1925), tour of Filmdom with glimpses of celebrities Ramon Novarro, Jack Warner, Max Linder, and Vola Vale (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
  • Hunting Wild Geese for Market (Salisbury Wildlife Pictures, ca. 1915), documentary about hunting in the Sacramento Delta, which ends with a plea for greater government regulation (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
  • Hypnotic Nell (Kalem, 1912), fragment from a comedy in which Nell, played by Ruth Roland, tries to land her cowboy using pointers from a mail-order hypnotism course (Museum of Modern Art).
  • Idle Wives (Universal, 1916), 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, 1923), Hollywood comedy about a young woman seeking stardom. This earliest surviving film from Columbia Pictures exists in an incomplete copy and will be preserved through a collaboration of Sony Pictures and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
  • Maytime (B.P. Schulberg Productions, 1923), feature with Clara Bow in an early role. This film will be preserved by the Library of Congress through the support of David Stenn.
  • A Modern Cinderella (Vitagraph, 1910), update of the classic fairy tale, set in a boarding house and featuring Mary Fuller (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).
  • Reckless Youth (Select Pictures, 1922), drama about a restless convent girl whose fling in high society teaches her a lesson (George Eastman House).Selznick News (Selznick News, ca. 1922), newsreel with stories about burglar-proof mail containers, golfing moms, a prototype car phone, the Princeton crew team, and the latest fashions (UCLA Film & Television Archive).
  • Smithy (Hal Roach, 1924), two-reel comedy in which a hapless ex-military man, played by Stan Laurel, discovers that civilian life is tougher than it looks (Library of Congress).
  • Under the Daisies, or As a Tale That Is Told (Vitagraph, 1913), two-reeler featuring an early performance by Norma Talmadge. The New Zealand footage is expected to complete the copy held at the Library of Congress.
  • Unseen Forces (Mayflower Photoplay, 1920), feature directed by Sidney Franklin in which a clairvoyant, who uses her psychic powers to help others, eventually wins back her man (Library of Congress).
  • The Woman Hater (Powers Picture Plays, 1910), early Pearl White vehicle in which a disgruntled suitor, claiming to hate all women, changes his tune after his girlfriend saves him from Indians (George Eastman House).
  • Won in a Closet (Keystone, 1914), (Keystone, 1914), first surviving movie directed by and starring Mabel Normand. Released in New Zealand as Won in a Cupboard (Library of Congress).

Hopefully, someday, a few of these films will make their way to the San Francisco Bay Area! [ Pictured above, at left, is Bay Area favorite Clara Bow in Maytime, one of her earliest films. ]

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Weekend update #17

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) At the recent Silent Film Festival (during the "Amazing Tales from the Archives" program), it was announced that the recently found John Ford silent, Upstream (1927), would be screened by the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That screening took place just a few days ago. And, by all accounts, it was a memorable occasion. Susan King, writing in the Los Angeles Times, noted "The audiences' anticipation was palpable Wednesday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The SRO crowd was there for what Academy First Vice President Sid Ganis described as a 'historic' event." Susan King's report on the event can be found here. Another illustrated report on the event can be found at We Are Movie Geeks.

2) Book lovers, mark your calendars! The largest book sale on the West Coast is coming to San Francisco - and this year it’s even bigger and better than before. On September 22-26, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library will host their 46th Annual Big Book Sale. It's opening a day early to accommodate an epic number of books in all subjects - all of which will be for sale!  If you love film history and movie star biographies, then don't miss this event. Who know's what you'll find - a gently used copy of The Fairbanks Album or Lulu in Hollywood, or perhaps Pola Negri's memoirs or a novel by Lionel Barrymore or Mary Pickford?

Held at the Fort Mason Center, the sale will include over 100,000 more books than last year, bringing this year's offerings to half a million books, DVDs, CDs, books on tape, vinyl and other forms of media. All books are $5 or less and all books remaining on Sunday are $1 or less. The Big Book Sale is free and open to the public and all proceeds benefit the San Francisco Public Library. It's not only a good cause, its also a great way to build you library of books on film history.

3) Metropolis - the 1927 Fritz Lang sci-fi masterpiece - continues to make a splash while screenings of the recently restored film take place around the country. If you missed its July showing at the Silent Film Festival (with live musical accompaniment provided by the Alloy Orchestra) or its return engagement at the Castro Theater last month, then you'll have a chance to see what the fuss was all about when KINO releases the restored film on DVD and Blue-ray in November. Visit this KINO link to find out more.

Curiously, just a few days ago, we happened to come across this bit of advertising for a local auto dealer in San Francisco. Brigitte Helm as Maria / The Robot is featured.