Monday, July 23, 2012

Wrapping the 17th Annual SF Silent Film Festival!

SFSFF17 Announcement Party Invitation

A Thousand Busters

On Opening Night, sound effects master Ben Burtt and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra brought WINGS to exhilarating new life. Andrea Kalas and Grover Crisp, the respective heads of preservation at Paramount and Sony, gave thoughtful insight into the future and necessity of digital restoration. Introduced by the masterful director Philip Kaufman, THE WONDERFUL LIE OF NINA PETROVNA seduced everyone sitting in the Castro - a sleeper hit of the festival. Donald Sosin and Toychestra provided vibrant new accompaniment for FELIX THE CAT, to the delight of the hundreds of children who came for their Saturday morning cartoons. The amazing Paul McGann joined Horne for SOUTH, narrating from the letters of Ernest Shackleton to create an intimate and moving experience of the infamous Antarctic expedition. The incomparable Louise Brooks and the Matti Bye Ensemble cast a spell over the packed house at Saturday's showing of the gorgeous restoration of PANDORA'S BOX. Donald Sosin's beautiful score enhanced the shadowy nuance and humanity of THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK. And on Closing Night, in between McGann and Horne's pitch-perfect narration and accompaniment of A TRIP TO THE MOON and Buster Keaton at his best in THE CAMERAMAN, 1400 people channeled Keaton for the amazing image above. An historic moment, and the perfect way to end the festival!
to the wonderful, adventurous audience; to the brilliant musicians; to the entertaining and informative introducers; to the tireless festival staff and volunteers; to the generous members, sponsors, donors; to the endlessly supportive Board of Directors; to everyone who made this year's festival such a beautiful one. 
The Night of a Thousand Busters 
Thanks go out to Fandor for making this image possible,  
and for extending a free month of exceptional movies to all SFSFF attendees. 
Claim your pass at
With gratitude to our
Thank you to our

Friday, July 13, 2012

Now that we have your attention....

Now that we have your attention.... a reminder NOT to miss this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which is now underway at the Castro Theater. You never know who or what you may see. Like today's FREE "Amazing Tales from the Archives" program or the many author booksignings taking place over the next three days. More info at !

And if you do come, don't forget to dress up, like this fine couple in period clothing
for last night's rousing screening of WINGS !

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Interview with actor Paul McGann

This weekend, the celebrated English actor Paul McGann comes to San Francisco to take part in the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

On Saturday July 14th, McGann is teaming up with acclaimed British pianist Stephen Horne to present South (1919), director Frank Hurley’s moving documentary of Ernest Shackleton’s failed 1914-1917 expedition to Antarctica. Now restored by the British Film Institute with original tints and toning, the film is a stunning record of one of the great adventures in the annals of exploration. McGann will narrate, reading Shackleton’s letters to Horne’s elegiac score.

And on Sunday July 15th, McGann will read Georges Méliès’ original narration to the French filmmaker's A Trip to the Moon (1902). A new restoration of the early sci-fi classic, which recreates the exquisite hand coloring of Méliès’ original print, will be shown prior to the Festival’s final film, Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928).

Paul McGann narrates two films at this year's Festival

Who is Paul McGann? As an actor, he first made a name for himself in 1986 as the lead in a historical BBC drama set during WWI, The Monocled Mutineer (this once-controversial series is just out on DVD in the UK). McGann is also known for his role in one of Britain's biggest cult films, the 1987 black comedy, Withnail and I. Other credits include parts in Empire of the Sun, Alien 3, Queen of the Damned, and the BBC's Our Mutual Friend and Hornblower series.

McGann may be best known, at least to science-fiction fans, as the Eighth Doctor, a role he played in the 1996 Doctor Who made-for-television movie. Its story, of the Doctor's regeneration and attempt to save the earth, is set in San Francisco in 1999, on the eve of the millennium.

McGann is, as well, a patron of Bristol Silents, a group formed to raise awareness and knowledge of silent film among the English film going public. He has introduced screenings of films from the silent era and written about them for newspapers including the Guardian in England; his piece on Louise Brooks, with whom he shares a birthday, is well worth checking out.

Recently, McGann answered a few questions about his interest in the silent era and what he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  

Thomas Gladysz: When did you first get interested in silent film?  

Paul McGann: About ten years ago after becoming a patron of Bristol Silents. I'd had a general interest since my student days in London, during which the restored Napoleon was premiered, Kevin Brownlow's Abel Gance and David Robinson's Chaplin were published, and Louise Brooks was being 're-discovered.'  

Thomas Gladysz: Tell me more about your involvement with Bristol Silents. How did that relationship come about?  

Paul McGann: I supported one of their early events, I think it was a screening of The Big Parade, and met Chris Daniels [a founder of the group]. He's kindly involved me in quite a few of their projects since, each bigger and better by the year.  

Thomas Gladysz: Any favorite films? How about favorite directors or stars?  

Paul McGann: The first director I worked with, Bruce Robinson, told me when we met that if I thought Jaws was the perfect movie I plainly hadn't seen The Gold Rush. So I did. He was right. I've been a fan of Louise Brooks since first seeing Pandora's Box on television. I remember thinking they must've had that girl playing Lulu parachuted in from the present.  

Stephen Horne
Thomas Gladysz: You've written and spoken about Louise Brooks, and introduced her films. What is it about the actress that attracts you?  

Paul McGann: She appeared to find, if only briefly, the perfect working spirit. Matchlessly beautiful, fully intelligent and a total natural; most screen actors would kill to be so blessed.  

Thomas Gladysz: At this year's San Francisco Silent Film festival, you're narrating South, Frank Hurley's documentary of Ernest Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica. What can we expect?  

Paul McGann: Musician Stephen Horne and myself will try to recreate at least a flavour of the public screenings Shackelton hosted at London's Philharmonic Hall in 1919 when he read from his memoir while Hurley's film played.  

Thomas Gladysz: Have you narrated the film before?  

Paul McGann: Twice, in Bristol and Pordenone, Italy.  

Thomas Gladysz: Are there any films you're especially excited about at this year's Festival.

Paul McGann: Aside from the thrill of seeing a beautifully restored Pandora's Box, I'm really intrigued about Little Toys from China and Erotikon from Sweden.  

Thomas Gladysz: You played a Time Lord in Doctor Who. Were you to travel back in time and return to the silent era and be cast in a film, which film would that be?  

Paul McGann: That's easy, Murnau's Sunrise. I'd gladly (my wife might say naturally) take over George O'Brien's duties as the man caught between Janet Gaynor and Margaret Livingston.

Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found at The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater July 12 - 15th. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Two times two: actors Clara Bow & Franz Lederer

There are two actors appearing in two films at this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. One is well known. She was nicknamed the "It Girl." The other is less well known. He was a reliable character actor, a rising star in Germany whose career never quite took off in the United States. They are Clara Bow, and Franz (or Francis) Lederer.

At this year's Festival, sultry Clara Bow stars in Wings (1927) and Mantrap (1926). Each film was made at the peak of her career, and shouldn't be missed. Like Louise Brooks, Bow is a screen personality who seldom dissapoints.

And at this year's Festival, studious Franz Lederer stars in Pandora's Box (1929) and The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna (1929). Both are exceptional films which showcase this actors fine talents. More on Lederer at the Louise Brooks Society blog.

And more information about this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found at The Festival takes place July 12 – 15th. And in case you were wondering, Bow and Lederer never worked together.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jeffrey Vance on Douglas Fairbanks and the 2012 Silent Film Festival

On Sunday, July 15th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen The Mark of Zorro (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. As Zorro, a masked champion of the people, Fairbanks displays the athletic prowess, humor, and rakish charm that would propel him to super-stardom. The film is a classic, and in it Fairbanks set the bar high for subsequent action-adventure films in what was his first-ever swashbuckler.

Set to introduce The Mark of Zorro is Jeffrey Vance, the leading Fairbanks scholar and author of Douglas Fairbanks, which was published to wide acclaim by the University of California Press. Vance’s book is a deft amalgam of biography, film history, and analysis with lots of great images, as well as a portrait of a film pioneer critically important to the creation of cinema as the defining art form of the twentieth century. Academy Award winner Kevin Brownlow stated, “Douglas Fairbanks was one of the most important characters in film history, and this enthusiastic and well-researched book will tell you why.”

Vance is a film historian, archivist, producer, lecturer and the author of a trilogy of earlier books, each highly regarded, on film greats Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Vance will be signing copies of his books following the Sunday screening The Mark of Zorro.

Recently, Vance spoke about Fairbanks, silent film, his work as a film historian, and what he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s Festival.

Jeffrey Vance in Hollywood
Thomas Gladysz: How did you become interested in Douglas Fairbanks?

Jeffrey Vance: I became interested in Fairbanks as a result of my early interest in Charles Chaplin. Fairbanks was Chaplin’s great friend, and a partner in the United Artists Corporation. He was also a Hollywood superstar along with Chaplin and Mary Pickford. I wrote Mary Pickford a fan letter at the end of her life. She responded with an encouraging letter. Fairbanks’s namesake son also provided encouragement later on.

Thomas Gladysz: Fairbanks was more than a popular actor—he was an innovator and pioneer.

Jeffrey Vance: Yes. Douglas Fairbanks was one of the most creative producers in America and one of Hollywood’s great leaders. He came to films as a Broadway star, transitioned to films first as a screen satirist and then, of course, as the great screen swashbuckler. Beyond that, he was a civic leader, an independent producer, the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a developer of America’s first film school, now called the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Fairbanks helped pioneer and popularize Technicolor cinematography and original film scores. And, his film collection was one of the first important film deposits at the Museum of Modern Art; Fairbanks was also a pioneer of film preservation. In short, Fairbanks was at the forefront of many important things.

Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance
Thomas Gladysz: At this year’s SFSFF, you’re introducing The Mark of Zorro. What should viewers expect?

Jeffrey Vance: The Mark of Zorro is a landmark not only in Fairbanks’ career but also in the development of the action adventure film. With The Mark of Zorro, Fairbanks was transitioning from comedies to the costume films for which he is best remembered. Instead of reflecting the times, The Mark of Zorro offers an infusion of the romantic past with a contemporary flair. Prior to Fairbanks, most costume films had been largely turgid affairs; Fairbanks’ contribution to the costume film was his winning charm, humor, and athleticism executed in a modern manner.

Beyond re-energizing his career and redefining a genre, The Mark of Zorro also helped popularize one of the enduring creations of twentieth century American fiction, a character that was the prototype for comic book heroes such as Batman. Bob Kane told me that Fairbanks’ Zorro costume, secret lair, and dual identity inspired Batman. And, of course, footage from the original The Mark of Zorro is cleverly interwoven into the Oscar-winning film, The Artist.

Thomas Gladysz: Speaking of The Artist, Fairbanks’ persona obviously influenced the film’s lead character, George Valentin. What did you think of the film?

Jeffrey Vance: I think The Artist is a miracle. The fact is it raised a “dead” art form—the silent cinema—like Lazarus. It’s no longer perceived as irrelevant; someone else could conceivably make another silent film and it too could garner critical and commercial success.

Thanks to the Weinstein Company, I was able to attend several screenings and events promoting the film. It was gratifying to hear writer/director Michel Hazanavicius tell me that the creative team behind The Artist had my Douglas Fairbanks book, and that it was the book and all the screenings and events around the book that helped shape the character of George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin. They could have easily modeled the character on John Gilbert or Rudolph Valentino.

Thomas Gladysz: What draws you to silent film?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, a great draw is that the viewer is part of the creative process. The viewer is interpreting the images on the screen. Silent cinema is like opera and ballet; what’s not provided the viewer provides with their imagination. As a result, one is more involved with silent cinema than with other types of films. They mean more to the viewer.

Thomas Gladysz: As a film historian and author, what’s next?

Jeffrey Vance: I’ve done quite a few audio commentary tracks. Recently released, The Gold Rush for Criterion Collection is my best commentary work and my favorite. I’ve also recorded tracks for Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad for the Cohen Collection, as well as the 1944 British comedy On Approval for Inception Media Group. I’m recording another for Warner Home Video at the end of the month.

I’ve also done quite a bit of work in the past year for Roy Export, the Chaplin family organization that controls the copyrighted Chaplin films as well as the Chaplin image. A Chaplin film deposit now joins the Chaplin photographic collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I helped negotiate and arrange that collection. These two important collections will be celebrated by the Academy in the near future. Recently, I took the NBC Today Show on a Chaplin tour, it will air sometime after the Olympics.

I am also working on a book project about Mary Pickford. The late Robert Cushman, a leading Pickford expert and photo curator at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote several chapters for a critical study of Pickford. Robert also conducted interviews with cinematographers Hal Mohr, director George Cukor, and others in the early 1970s. Manoah Bowman, the executor of Robert’s estate, has allowed me exclusive use of these materials to develop into a complete book. I intend to augment Robert’s materials with my own interview materials and research. I believe it will be an important Pickford book.

Douglas Fairbanks (left) in The Mark of Zorro (1920)
Thomas Gladysz: Besides The Mark of Zorro, which films at this year’s festival most intrigue you?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, there are three must-see films. Mantrap is a comedy gem. With a capacity Castro crowd, Mantrap may very well bring the house down. It’s Clara Bow’s best film. I find we’re still catching up with Clara Bow! She was very much of her time yet ahead of her time. Another is Pandora’s Box. Silent films are all about picture quality. In an inferior print, you’re taking away vital information. Louise Brooks really comes alive in the new restoration. To see additional detail in her performance is to see the film for the first time. And Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box is a performance for the ages!

Finally, I’m keen to revisit The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna. The film co-stars Francis Lederer, and I remember being seated next to him when the film was shown in his honor at Cinecon in Hollywood in the 1990s. It was an amazing film, and Mr. Lederer was flabbergasted at this silent picture he made early in his long career. At the film’s conclusion, he kept repeating, “I can’t believe how good this picture is. That man Schwarz [Hanns Schwarz, the film’s director] was a genius!”

These films are just shells of themselves on home video or screened in museums/archives. They were designed and timed for the big screen, large audiences, and live music. Anything else isn’t the authentic silent film experience. I’m very grateful to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for the opportunities they provide to revisit and rediscover the very fragile art form that is the silent cinema.


Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found at The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater July 12 - 15th.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Guest blogger: John Bengtson on location with Buster Keaton

John Bengtson is a Bay Area film historian and author with a knack for tracking down the locations where early films were shot. It is like detective work, or to change similes, visual archeology.  Bengtson's three books, Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood through the Films of Buster Keaton (Santa Monica Press, 1999), Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin (Santa Monica Press, 2006), and Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd (Santa Monica Press, 2011) explore the Hollywood history hidden in the background of the films of these three silent era comedians.

Bengtson authors an excellent blog at which contains even more material along these lines. As background to the Sunday, July 15th screening of The Cameraman at the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Bengtson contributed this guest post about the Buster Keaton classic.


Buster Keaton and Marceline Day
The 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival concludes this year on Sunday, July 15, with a 7:30 pm screening of Buster Keaton’s 1928 comedy triumph The Cameraman. Set in New York, but filmed mostly in Hollywood, The Cameraman was Keaton’s last silent feature production, and his first film for his new studio, M-G-M.  Buster plays a tintype photographer, selling portraits on the sidewalk, who longs to become a newsreel cameraman in order to impress Sally (played by Marceline Day), a receptionist for the Hearst Newsreel Company.  While I cover the New York and Hollywood locations more extensively in my Keaton book Silent Echoes, here are a few fun discoveries.

Early in the film, Buster leaps aboard a moving fire truck at the iconic intersection of Hollywood and Vine, with the stately Taft Building standing in the background.

This circa 1934 aerial view of Hollywood (below) shows the path (arrow) of Keaton’s fire truck at Hollywood and Vine (1), and later its path as it travels north up Cahuenga towards Hollywood Boulevard (2), before turning left into the former Hollywood fire station (4).   The parking lot across from the fire station (3) is where Buster stows his pet cow Brown Eyes during his feature comedy Go West (1925), and the alley up the street (5) is where a passing car whisks Buster away one-handed during Cops (1922).
(1) Hollywood and Vine; (2) up Cahuenga; (3) the Go West parking lot;
(4) the fire station interior; (5) the Cops alleyway.

You can see more about early filming on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood on a prior post,  Chaplin – Keaton – Lloyd – One Block in Silent-Era Hollywood.

Jumping to New York, when Sally calls Buster to tell him her plans have changed, and she is free to see him, Buster dashes up 5th Avenue from W 55th Street, and arrives at her apartment before she can hang up the phone.  Later, Buster and Sally stroll along the same block.

During one of the few scenes filmed on location in New York, Buster races north up 5th Avenue from the corner of W 55th Street. To the far right stands the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church. The spires in the center right background, my original clue to identifying this scene, belong to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the 11th largest church in the world. In the modern view below the spires are blocked by glass skyscrapers.

View Larger Map

Another notable location appearing in The Cameraman is the Venice Plunge (now lost), the large indoor swimming pool located beside the former Abbot Kinney Pier, where Buster and Sally go on a date.  Charlie Chaplin filmed beside the Venice Plunge in 1915 for his short comedy By The Sea.

The Venice Plunge interior, as it appears during the film.

The front of the Venice Plunge.
Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

The conclusion of The Cameraman was filmed in Newport Beach in Orange County.  The extant Newport Beach Pavilion appears in one early shot.  The boat race was staged near the south end of  Newport Bay.  The oval in this aerial view below shows where the speed boat runs in a circle.  The blue dot below show where Buster captures the speed boat on camera, standing before the extant home at 2234 Channel Road, appearing behind Buster during the scenes (below).

Buster beside the extant home at 2234 Channel Road in Newport Beach.

Buster stood near the blue dot above, filming across the channel towards Bayside Drive, as the speed boat races in a circle (oval above). (C) 2012 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird’s Eye (c) 2012 Pictometry International Corp.

The Cameraman images (C) 1928 Turner Entertainment Co.

Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found on our website at The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater in San Francisco from July 12 – 15th.  John Bengtson will be signing books following the late afternoon Sunday screening of Stella Dallas (1925), at approximately 6:30. Admission to the various author book signings is by Festival ticket.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book and DVD signings at the 2012 Silent Film Festival

Book signings are a tradition at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. As he has for the last 17 years, local writer Thomas Gladysz has organized a wonderful program of author appearances and signings to complement this year's onscreen programs. What follows is the line-up of book and DVD signings for the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. All signings take place on the Castro mezzanine after the indicated film. Admittance to the signings is by Festival ticket.

The good folks at Books Inc., a Festival sponsor, along with the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, will be on hand selling silent film related books and DVDs, including new releases and a few hard-to-get items you likely won't find anywhere else (or on eBay for three times the price).

Be sure and visit the Castro mezzanine while attending this year's Festival. Along with the book tables and author signings, you'll also find an silent film information table and a selection of San Francisco Silent Film Festival merchandise available for sale

Thursday, July 12

William Wellman Jr -- The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture  (Praeger) signing from 6:00-6:45

7:00 pm WINGS (1927)
William Wellman Jr -- The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture (Praeger)

Friday, July 13

10:30 am "Amazing Tales from the Archives"
William Wellman Jr -- The Man and His Wings: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture (Praeger)
Hugh Munro Neely -- his various documentary DVDs
Elaine Mae Woo -- Anna May Wong - Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend (DVD)

1:00 pm LITTLE TOYS (1933)
Richie Meyer --  related DVDs
Elaine Mae Woo -- Anna May Wong - Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times and Legend (DVD)

4:00 pm THE LOVES OF PHARAOH (1922)
Karie Bible -- Location Filming in Los Angeles (Arcadia)
Mary Mallory -- Hollywoodland (Arcadia)

7:00 pm MANTRAP (1926)
Michael Sragrow -- Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master (Pantheon) and James Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism (Library of America)

Saturday, July 14

10:00 am FELIX THE CAT SILENT CARTOONS (1925-1929)
Leonard Maltin & Russell Merritt -- various books

12:00 noon THE SPANISH DANCER (1923)
Emily Leider -- Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood (University of California)
Jeff Codori -- Colleen Moore: A Biography of the Silent Film Star (McFarland)

2:30 pm THE CANADIAN (1926)
Wendy Marshall -- William Beaudine: From Silents to Television (Scarecrow)
Jeff Codori -- Colleen Moore: A Biography of the Silent Film Star (McFarland)

7:00 pm PANDORA'S BOX (1929)
Thomas Gladysz -- The Diary of a Lost Girl Louise Brooks edition (PandorasBox Press)
Hugh Munro Neely -- Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu (DVD)

10:00 pm THE OVERCOAT (1926)

Sunday, July 15

10:00 am THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920)
Jeffrey Vance -- Douglas Fairbanks (University of California)

12:00 noon THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928)
Jack Tilmany & Gary Parks -- Theaters of the San Francisco Peninsula (Arcadia)
Karie Bible -- Location Filming in Los Angeles (Arcadia)
Mary Mallory -- Hollywoodland (Arcadia)

2:00 pm EROTIKON (1920)
Mick LaSalle -- The Beauty of the Real: What Hollywood Can Learn from Contemporary French Actresses (Stanford)

4:30 pm STELLA DALLAS (1925)
Eddie Muller -- Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (St. Martin's) and other books
Leonard Maltin -- various books
John Bengtson -- Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood through the Films of Buster Keaton (Santa Monica) and other books

7:30 pm THE CAMERAMAN (1928)

Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found on our website at The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater July 12 – 15th.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Special Programs at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Here are two special programs, and two more reasons, not to miss this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The Festival takes place at the historic Castro Theater July 12 through July 15.  More info at

Amazing Tales from the Archives

The Festival continues its popular Amazing Tales from the Archives program with "Into the Digital Frontier." Every year the Silent Film Festival searches the world’s archives for 35mm prints of films from the silent era. Two years ago, however, a major discovery in a Buenos Aires cinema museum, Fritz Lang’s original cut of Metropolis, was restored digitally and not available on 35mm. We felt that it was important to present this landmark restoration with live musical accompaniment and our audience was wildly appreciative. Today, technological advances have made it possible for studios to transfer more and more classic films to Digital Cinema Packages (DCP) making them available to the public. The best DCPs scan original negatives at such a high rate that all of the attributes of a photochemically-produced 35mm—detail, color, density, film grain—are vividly re-created. 

A scene from William Wellman's Wings

Is the experience of watching a DCP truly comparable to watching a film print? We invite two eminent film professionals from venerable Hollywood studios to discuss. Grover Crisp, head of Film Restoration and Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures will present a side-by-side comparison of a title on film print and DCP restoration, and Andrea Kalas, VP of Archives at Paramount Pictures will talk about her studio’s restoration of Wings (which opens the Festival the night before, in DCP).

Short and Silent

The Festival has two very special short presentations at this year’s festival—one a rare title unseen for 95 years, the other one of the most famous titles in film history! Twin Peaks Tunnel, a cinematic San Francisco time capsule was recently chosen for preservation by the National Film Preservation Foundation and its restoration was carried out by David Kiehn and Rob Byrne. It will be screened on Friday night preceding Mantrap.

A scene from Twin Peaks Tunnel, set not far from the Castro Theater
The other title, George Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon, will be shown in a beautiful restoration by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange that recreates the exquisite hand-colored tinting of the original print. It will be screened before The Cameraman on closing night. Both films will be accompanied by piano. Actor Paul McGann, who will be narrating South on Saturday, has just been added as the narrator for A Trip to the Moon.

A scene from George Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ticket Information for the 2012 Silent Film Festival

There are only a few days until the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Have you gotten your tickets? Don't miss out on the fun. More info, including the line-up of films, at

Mantrap, with Clara Bow (center)
Processing fees: $1.50 per ticket
Festival Passes: $6 fee per pass

Festival Passes (good for all programs in the Festival)  can be purchased with no handling fee at Books Inc. in the Castro and the McRoskey Mattress Company

Festival Passes $180 members / $215 general
(Good for one admission to all films—excludes Opening Night Party)
Books Inc. in the Castro District
2275 Market Street, San Francisco, 415-864-6777,
McRoskey Mattress Company
1687 Market Street, San Francisco, 415-861-4532,
and online at

Following the Opening Night Film, celebrate with good food, excellent drink, and live music in the top-floor loft of the historic McRoskey Mattress Company Building.
Party ticket: $20 members / $25 general
Film & Party: $35 members / $42 general

July 12 – 15 in person only
Castro Theatre Box Office and Will Call open at:
Thursday 6 pm, Friday 10 am, Saturday 9 am, Sunday 9 am

Members receive discounts on all tickets and passes.
For groups of 10 or more, there are discount group tickets (advance purchase only). Please call 415-777-4908 x 1 or email

Children under the age of ten are admitted free. Bring them to Felix the Cat on Saturday morning!

The Festival Gold Pass (available at the Patron level) gives you access to all festival programs, including the Opening Night Film and Party, and the Spotlight Lounge throughout the Festival. You’ll also enjoy early entrance privileges. Once the Early Entrance door opens, you’re welcome to come in!

The Platinum Pass (available at the Grand Patron, Benefactor, and Visionary levels) gives you priority entrance privileges to all festival programs and access to the Opening Night party, the Spotlight Lounge, and the convenience and comfort of the reserved seating section.

This warmly dressed fellow is checking the Festival schedule. He doesn't
want to miss The Overcoat on Saturday night.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Philip Kaufman: 2012 Director’s Pick

Every year, for the last four years, a contemporary filmmaker with an appreciation for film history has been invited to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to present a film. Past directors have been Guy Maddin and Terry Zwigoff, and Academy Award winners Pete Docter and Alexander Payne. 

This year, the Festival welcomes Philip Kaufman, whose directorial credits include The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Right Stuff (183), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), Henry and June (1988), and Quills (2000), among other films. And just recently, his Hemingway & Gellhorn premiered at Cannes International Film Festival. 

At the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival, Kaufman will introduce director Hanns Schwarz's The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna (1929), starring Brigitte Helm (Metropolis) and Franz Lederer (Pandora's Box).

Set in Czarist St. Petersburg, The Wonderful Lie is the story of the mistress of an upper class general who gives up her pampered life for the love of a lowly lieutenant. It's visually gorgeous, very European - and, one might even say, a little Kaufmanesque. Join us on Friday, July 13th and see and hear what Philip Kaufman has to say about this classic silent film.

The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna (1929)


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Story of the Star Spangled Banner

The Story of the Star Spangled Banner (Pathé, ca. 1917-1921) is a formerly lost film, a dramatic short subject from the silent era starring Frank Holland. Little is known about this production. The film comes from the collection of Ben Model, who asks that should anyone know more about this production to please post a comment at YouTube.

New musical score by Ben Model, © 2012 by Ben Model, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Sounds of Silents: Music at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

One of the big attractions at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is the music. Each film, from full length feature to one-reel short (and even the fragments screened during the Friday morning archives program) are accompanied by live music. Here is the line-up of musicians for the 2012 festival, along with links to their websites. Each is well worth checking out.

Alloy Orchestra

Alloy Orchestra is a three man musical ensemble, writing and performing live accompaniment to classic silent films. Working with an outrageous assemblage of peculiar objects, they thrash and grind soulful music from unlikely sources. Founded 20 years ago, Alloy has scored numerous feature length silent films and shorts. The group has helped revive some of the great masterpieces of the silent era by touring extensively, commissioning new prints, and collaborating with archives, collectors and curators.

Link to the Alloy Orchestra website.

Stephen Horne

Stephen Horne has long been considered one of the leading silent film accompanists. He is based at London's BFI Southbank, but plays at all the major UK venues and numerous international festivals in Europe and North America. Although principally a pianist, he often incorporates flute, accordion and keyboards into his performances, sometimes simultaneously.  As an adjunct to his work in silent film, he occasionally collaborates with a small group that recreates magic lantern shows.

Link to the Stephen Horne website.

Dennis James

For over forty years Dennis James has performed historically authentic silent film score accompaniments utilizing the actual published musical source materials from the silent film era while incorporating the actual period performance practices with unwavering professional commitment to stylistic integrity. He tours internationally with his Silent Film Concerts production company performing to silent films with solo organ, piano, and chamber ensemble accompaniments in addition to presentations with major symphony orchestras throughout the world.

Link to a Dennis James webpage.

Matti Bye Ensemble

Matti Bye has been a music score composer and live silent movie piano performer at the Swedish Film Institute since 1989. He is also a regular performer at European film festivals, including the Giornate del Cinema Muto, the Bologna Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, and the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä, Finland. The Ensemble consists of Bye, Lotta Johansson, Kristian Holmgren, and Mattias Olsson on a variety of instruments including the piano, glockenspiel, violin and musical saw.

Link to the Matti Bye Ensemble website.

Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is a quintet based in Colorado that revives the sound of the silent film orchestra. Using an extensive library of “photoplay music” that once belonged to movie theater orchestra leaders, Mont Alto compiles film scores by carefully selecting music to suit each scene in the film. The ensemble—cellist David Short, clarinetist Brian Collins, trumpeter Dawn Kramer, pianist Rodney Sauer, and violinist Britt Swenson is versatile enough to play music ranging from Tchaikovsky to the Charleston.

Link to the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra website.

Donald Sosin

Donald Sosin scores films for major festivals, archives and for DVD. SF Silent Film Festival performances include Lady of the Pavements with his wife Joanna Seaton, Prince Achmed, and many shorts. In February 2011, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra premiered his octet for Harold Lloyd’s Now or Never. Other commissions: Chicago Symphony Chorus, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, MoMA, TCM. Donald is the proud father of Nick and baby Mollie, an emerging pianist/drummer/singer. They live in Connecticut.

Link to the Donald Sosin website.

Toychestra is an all-woman musical ensemble that plays toys. Some are actual instruments like toddler-sized pianos and xylophones. Others just make great sounds, like the acoustic, multi-sonic Activity Center. Individually amplified and mixed live these instruments create a sophisticated aural experience that’s a far cry from a bunch of kids banging around. The ensemble performs original compositions in a variety of styles and moods. Members include Lexa Walsh, Shari Robertson, Corey Weinstein, Angela Coon, Michelle Adams.

Link to the Toychestra website.