“The Man Who Laughs” will screen May 30 at the Castro Theatre as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Image courtesy of the SFSFF.
Bigger and better than ever, the 23rd Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival extends an extra day this year to celebrate new restorations as well as the best of world cinema. Covering five days from May 30 through June 3, 2018, and held at the elegant Castro Theatre, the festival features a variety of wonderful live accompaniment giving voice to the films. Renowned historian Kevin Brownlow will be honored on his birthday and respected historians and author David Stenn and preservationist Serge Bromberg will introduce programs.
This year’s festival introduces a wide variety of films long unavailable or incomplete. One of the most intriguing films screening at this year’s festival is newly discovered footage of post-1906 earthquake San Francisco shot by the Miles Brothers, replicating footage they shot just before the great quake for the film “A Trip Down Market Street.” Funded by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and preserved by Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum historian David Kiehn, the short reveals the city’s devastation by quake and fire. The newly restored Harry Carey film “Soft Shoes” reveals the story of small town sheriff Pat Halahan who inherits a large sum and comes to San Francisco to collect, but finds himself fighting crime, courting a girl, and saving the day. Film restoration was funded by a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation and additional funding by the SFSFF Film Preservation Fund.
An all-festival pass is $300, $270 for members.
Individual tickets are also available.
Helen Lee Worthing in “The Other Woman’s Story.” Image courtesy of SFSFF.
The 1925 film “The Other Woman’s Story” starring Ziegfeld Follies star and new find Helen Lee Worthing premieres Friday, with funding by historian Stenn and preservation by the SFSFF. This movie reveals the trial of Colman Colby (Robert Frazer) for the killing of Robert Marshall, but “other woman” Worthing decides to prove his innocence. On Saturday, the 1929 German version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is unveiled, thanks to funding from the festival.
Mary Pickford’s 1923 film “Rosita” also shows off the Museum of Modern Art’s new restoration Friday afternoon. The film features the first adult portrayal by the world superstar. “The Saga of Gosta Berling,” featuring Greta Garbo in her first starring role, plays Saturday evening in restoration by the Swedish Film Institute. Late Sunday afternoon the Deutsche Kinemathek restoration of “The Ancient Law” screens, the story of Jewish assimilation in 19th century Europe and a forerunner to the 1927 Warner Bros. film “The Jazz Singer.”
A scene from “The Ancient Law,” from Pictures and the Picturegoer.
Offering an intriguing look at how many of these films were restored and preserved, the free Thursday, May 31 program “Amazing Tales From the Archives” kicks off proceedings. The event features detailed, behind-the-scenes stories by archivists and preservationists detailing the discovery of the films and the painstaking work in researching and restoring the elements to original release order.
Two programs offer a diverse screening of shorts. The festival screens a variety of early American Avant-Garde shorts from the Unseen Cinema collection Friday, including a Slavko Vorkapich montage, Marcel Duchamp’s “Anemic Cinema,” 1931 Mexican footage by Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, and Robert Florey’s “The Life and Death of 9413 – A Hollywood Extra,” a dark look at an extra’s struggle in 1927 Hollywood. Sunday morning, the program “Serge Bromberg Presents…” features a selection of silent silents from Lobster Films, including several in 3-D, a stereoscopic demonstration from 1900, and several surprises.
Kevin Brownlow’s 80th birthday will be celebrated with a showing of “Mare Nostrum,” which he will present. Image courtesy of SFSFF.
The festival offers an intriguing look at classics from around the world this year as well, including the rare screening of the 1929 Indian film, “A Throw of Dice,” which was inspired by a tale in the “Mahabharata” and features a cast of more than 10,000 extras. Two Japanese silents also play during the Festival, Ozu’s 1935 film “An Inn in Toyko” and Tomo Uchida’s 1933 movie “Policeman.”
Europe also gets it due during the weekend, with screenings of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1925 “Master of the House,” the 1929 French movie Jean Gremillon, 1929 German “Mother Krause’s Journey to Happiness,” Italy’s 1922 “Trappola,” and a 1929 Russian “Fragment of an Empire.” One of the earliest films to feature work by such future directing greats Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann, “People on Sunday” shot on the streets of Berlin to show a group of young people enjoying a weekend outing, blending cinema verite and fiction.
A scene from the Constance Talmadge film “Good References.” From Motion Picture News.
American films aren’t forgotten, with films by such major stars as Constance Talmadge, Tom Mix, and Buster Keaton also screening. Talmadge’s “Good References” is the tale of a young woman desperate for secretary work, recently restored by UCLA Film and TV Archive. The Mix western “No Man’s Gold” features nonstop action and adventure at such recognized landmark locations as Death Valley and Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills. Keaton’s “Battling Butler” concludes the festival. Revered director Rex Ingram is saluted with a screening of his 1926 film “Mare Nostrum,” filmed on location at Ingram’s Nice, France, studio with his wife, Alice Terry, and Antonio Moreno.
For the record
May 17, 2018: A previous version of this post said that “Good References” was restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The festival features a wide range of musical accompanists from solo pianists to orchestras, providing an emotional voice to the films. Stephen Horne, Donald Sosin, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, the Matti Bye Ensemble, Guenther Buckwald and Frank Bockius, and the Berklee Silent Film Ensemble add their musical talents to the screenings.
For those looking to expand their knowledge of the artistry of silent films from around the world, the 2018 San Francisco Silent Film Festival offers a perfect place to both learn and be inspired by this marvelous art.