Thursday, June 30, 2011

This n That

Some fabuous double bills coming up at the Castro Theater in late July and early August to honor film composer Max Steiner

July 29

July 30

July 31

August 1

August 2

August 3
THE BIG SLEEP (1946) + KEY LARGO (1948)

August 4

More info to be found at The Castro's Website.


Begin commercial announcement:  I've got an eBay store open that currently is selling vintage 1920s postcards of Rudolph Valentino.  More movie memorabilia will be listed soon, as well as non-movie items such as vintage picture frames, costume jewelry, bakelite and other ephemera.  You can check it out by visiting Golden Gate Goodies.  We're cleaning out the closets!  End of the commercial announcement.


There's a new blog online by my favorite Cultural Archeologist, Thomas Gladysz.  City Brights is located on the SF Chronicle's website, you can find it here.  As always there will be plenty of good reading.


There is another new (old) blog that is well worth mentioning.  Larry Harnisch of the Los Angeles Times has been posting all sorts of fascinating LA history at The Daily Mirror (formerly hosted on the LA Times website).  It's got a new home and new contributors here.  Do pay it a visit, there is some wonderful content as Larry "Reflects on Los Angeles History."


Speaking of LA ... Do not miss the excellent lineup of films screening at the LA County Museum over the summer.  LACMA's lineup has me drooling and absolutely green envious!  Check it out here.


My book Rudolph Valentino the Silent Idol - His Life in Photographs is now one year old.  What a wonderful year it has been!  To say the book has suceeded beyond my wildest dreams is an understatement.  It's been received with open arms, the feedback has been great and sales are still going strong.  Who knew??

A new website for the book is currently under construction.  The purpose of the new website devoted solely to The Silent Idol is to further promote the book and to share some goodies that did not make the final cut as well as some fun multimedia.  Nothing online at the moment, you will eventually find it at  Don't forget that the book may be ordered at as well as the link to blurb's website above.


A free screening of The Son of the Sheik will be at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library in the Koret Auditorium.  Sunday, July 10th at 2:00 - 5:00 pm  Come see Valentino at his best!  I will be there and would love to meet other "rudyfans."

Don't forget to pay a visit to the exhibits celebrating silent film at the library on display through the summer (descriptions below cribbed from Thomas' blog):

"Reading the Stars" is on display in the Steve Silver room (4th floor) of the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library through August 28th. It is part of a SFPL celebration of the silent era called "Shhhhh! Silents in the Library."

Other exhibits are devoted to "Downtown Movie Palaces of the 1920s" and "The Silent Screen in the City." The latter looks at some of the many movie stars who visited San Francisco or made films here in the Bay Area.

"Shhhhh! Silents in the Library" coincides with the 16th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which takes place July 14-17 at the Castro Theater. A display of past posters from the Festival are also on display at the SFPL.


The San Franciso Silent Film Festival will be happening on July 14-17 at the Castro Theater.  It's an event I look forward to every year.  I hope to have a few more posts on a couple of the films this weekend.  I'm anxious to talk about the premiere of Douglas Fairbanks' Mr. Fix-It as well as the Marlene Dietrich silent Women Men Yearn For.

That's it for this week!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

San Francisco Silent Film Festival - A Look Forward to Day 4

Day 4 and the closing day of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will begin with a presentation by my hero, Kevin Brownlow. Amazing Tales From the Archives II, he'll present a program on 50 years of film preservation. Kevin is a wonderful speaker and I am anxious to not only hear but to see his program.



Accompanied By: Dennis James
(USA, 1916, 60 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Lois Weber
Cast: Mary MacLaren, Harry Griffith

Without question, Lois Weber was the most important woman director of the silent era. She began her career in 1908 when a “long” film lasted 20 minutes, and directed her last feature a quarter century later in 1934, well into the sound era. During that span she directed (and often acted in) more than 140 films, many of which were critical as well as popular successes. Weber saw film not only as entertainment, but also as a means for exploring the important social issues of the time. Abortion, birth control, capital punishment, religious hypocrisy, the living wage, child labor, prostitution, and white slavery were all topics Weber addressed in her films.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Lois Weber as a woman on a soapbox, though. Her films were well scripted, well acted, and highly popular. In 1916 she was the highest paid director at Universal and her films were among the most successful produced by the studio. Weber is less well known today due in large part to the fact that only a handful of her films still survive and even fewer are available for viewing. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of EYE Film Insituut Nederland, a “new” and important title from Weber’s canon is reemerging from the darkness

SHOES was released to the American public in June 1916 during the height of the social reform movement. Weber directed and released an astonishing 19 films that year, many of which were highly controversial and often subjected to cries for censorship. The only known surviving copy of SHOES was a heavily deteriorated nitrate print residing in the collection of EYE Film. In 2008 the institute undertook a three-year project to restore the feature and return it to the screen. The print film was digitally scanned combined with fragments from another source, and then digitally corrected to the extent possible. English titles were recreated based on translation from the Dutch titles and the original color tinting was recreated by matching the source material. The final result of this preservation effort is a new film negative that serves as a preservation element for the film, and of course a brand new 35mm allowing SHOES to be shared with the world.

Print courtesy of EYE Film Instituut Nederland


Wild and Weird: Short Film Favorites with New Music
Accompanied By: Alloy Orchestra
(77 mins, digital)

This collection of shorts from the silent era demonstrates the wonder of early special effects, still dazzling after 100 years!

Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend d. Edwin S. Porter
Edwin S. Porter’s adaptation of a well-loved Winsor McCay character follows the “fiend” on his hallucinatory travels after rarebit gorge. (1906, USA, 9 min.)

Red Spectre d. Ferdinand Zecca
A demonic magician living in a mysterious cavern conjures up and toys with young women, until he is opposed by a good spirit. (1907, France, 9 min.)

The Acrobatic Fly d. Percy Smith
F. Percy Smith’s demonstration of a talented housefly, a.k.a. The Balancing Bluebottle. (1910, USA, 3 min.)

The Thieving Hand d. Edwin S. Porter
A one-armed man gets an artificial limb at the Limb Store, but the new arm has a mind of its own. (1908, USA, 6 min.)

Princess Nicotine d. Paul Panzer
This reverie, also known as The Smoke Fairy, has mischievous fairies besting a sleeping smoker. (1909, USA, 5 min.)

Arthème Swallows his Clarinet d. Ernest Servaès
This surrealistic short has music-lover Arthème continuing to play his clarinet even after an accident involving a falling piano causes him to swallow it! (1912, France, 4 min.)

Cameraman’s Revenge d. Wladyslaw Starewicz
A story of jealousy and revenge starring beetles! Starewicz’s genius at stop-motion animation has never been surpassed. (1912, Russia, 13 min.)

Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend: The Pet d. Winsor McKay
After eating rarebit, a man dreams that his wife’s insatiable pet keeps growing and growing until it threatens the entire city! (1921, USA, 10 min.)

Filmstudie d. Hans Richter
A Dadaist wonder! (1926, Germany, 5 min.)

Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra d. Robert Florey
This brilliant and deeply funny short tells the story of what happens to one man’s dreams of stardom in the Dream Factory. (1928, USA, 13 min.)

Digital print courtesy of David Shepard

The Nail in the Boot
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
(USSR, 1931, 54 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Mikhail Kalatozov
Cast: Alexandre Shaliashvili, Siko Palavandishvili

THE NAIL IN THE BOOT was to be the last film made in Georgia by the future author of THE CRANES ARE FLYING and SOY CUBA (I AM CUBA): it was to be eight years before he was able to direct another film. Made for the “Samkhedrofilmi” (Military Film) studio, it was intended as a so-called defensive-military and agitation-propaganda (agitprop) film, with the message that slipshod workers are saboteurs causing damage to national defence, and with the aim of ideologically educating the audience to oppose future enemies. The film had an alternative title, THE HOMELAND IS IN DANGER.

As its main title indicates, the plot is inspired by the universal folk anecdote “All for the sake of a horseshoe nail”. The first part of the film takes place on a battlefield. A soldier is dispatched to notify divisional headquarters that the armored train is faced with destruction and urgently needs aid. On the way, his foot is injured by a nail sticking out of the sole of his boot, and he fails to reach headquarters in time. The train is lost. The second part of the film is a courtroom enquiry into the action of the protagonist, at which different aspects of the story emerge.

The least of the criticisms leveled against Kalatozov was that this plot was confusing for the audience. The main attack was more fundamental and crushing. Kalatozov was accused of being carried away by formalistic pursuits and of destroying the logical narrative by ideological and other errors. Formalism was now a permanent stigma upon him. V. Katinov, in Proletarskoe Kino (1932, issue 5), charged: “When making THE NAIL Kalatozov did not apply the revolutionary method of dialectical materialism to his theme, but proceeded from formalistic aestheticism.”

Today, almost 80 years later, we may feel that the Communist Party was to some extent justified in complaining that Kalatozov had not met the required ideological criteria. His first concern is seeking the visual concept of the film, and only then what the State requires from him as a Soviet artist. THE NAIL IN THE BOOT, rather than calling for mobilization and battle with the conventional enemy, inspires sympathy with a loyal man who risks being subjected to oppression. The sentiments are expressed by subtle cinematic means and brilliant use of the potential of the materials available to Kalatozov in the early days of his creative life. If he failed the Communist Party’s exam, he triumphs in the higher exam of time and history. —Excerpted from a piece by Nino Dzandzava in the Giornate del Cinema Muto catalog

Print courtesy of Gosfilmofond


He Who Gets Slapped

Accompanied By: Matti Bye Ensemble
(USA, 1924, 95 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Victor Sjöström
Cast: Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, Ruth King

HE WHO GETS SLAPPED is a Hollywood film of a Russian play, made by a Swedish director—the great Victor Sjöström, star of Bergman’s WILD STRAWBERRIES (1958). It is also the first film made by the newly formed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. These are all good historical reasons for studying it, and for expecting something special.

Sjöström is here paired with Lon Chaney, the silent era’s greatest character star, and a master of the grotesque. The director reins in Chaney’s excesses and coaxes from him an eloquent, restrained, yet hugely powerful performance. Chaney plays Paul Beaumont, an aspiring scientist who loses everything in one horrific day—his theories are stolen, he is disgraced before his peers, and his wife scorns him in favor of the man who robbed him. Each horror culminates in a slap to the face. Beaumont cracks, begins to laugh, and the next time we see him he’s employed as a circus clown and known only as HE. And then the film’s true story begins.

Chaney is in love again, with a beautiful equestrienne (a young Norma Shearer). But she’s in love with a handsome young circus star (John Gilbert), but her sleazy father is about to promise her hand to… but I won’t give it away. Over the course of the narrative, HE will face his original trauma once more, for real, and overcome it, after a fashion.

Chaney’s character, HE, obsessively revisits his own trauma, re-enacting the slap that ended his first life, again and again, for the delectation of the circus audience. As an exploration of emotional masochism, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED is an extraordinary work, far removed from the romantic glitz MGM would make its stock-in-trade.

Beyond the film’s bizarrely powerful narrative and tantalizing psychological undertones, there’s the technique. Sjöström was master of the match-dissolve, where one image bleeds into another, creating an expressive juxtaposition. This film is unique in MGM’s output, unique in its director’s work, unique in film history. It’s the film that tells us what life is (with a single image!), the film that matches the laugh of the clown to the snarl of a lion, and the film that creates a great love story from a tale as artificial as the whiteface makeup of a clown. —Excerpted from David Cairns’s Senses of Cinema

Print courtesy of George Eastman House

Individual tickets and festival passes may be purchased online at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

See you there!

Friday, June 17, 2011

San Francisco Silent Film Festival - A Look Forward to Day 3

Laugh-O-Grams from Disney
Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
(USA, 60 mins)
Presented in coordination with the Walt Disney Family Museum

Disney author and historian JB Kaufman will introduce a wonderful selection of Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-Grams from 1921–23, which have been recently preserved by The Museum of Modern Art.

In 1915, Disney founded the Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri, inviting some of animation’s future greats, including Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Friz Freleng, and Rudolph Ising, to create fairy tale cartoons. This program features six of these tales: Little Red Riding Hood (aka Grandma Steps Out), Jack the Giant Killer (aka The KO Kid), Puss in Boots (aka The Cat’s Whiskers), Goldie Locks and the Three Bears (aka The Peroxide Kid), The Four Musicians of Bremen, and Newman Laugh-O-Grams. Goldie Locks and Jack the Giant Killer were thought lost for many years, until animation historian Cole Johnson found the titles in MoMA’s collection, misidentified under alternate titles.

Variations on a Theme: Musicians on the Craft of Composing and Performing for Silent Film
(70 mins)

The Festival Musicians discuss and debate their craft in this lively panel, moderated by Jill Tracy.

Program includes members of Matti Bye Ensemble, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and Alloy Orchestra, and Dennis James, Giovanni Spinelli, Stephen Horne, and Donald Sosin


The Blizzard
Gunnar Hedes Saga
Accompanied By: Matti Bye Ensemble
(Sweden, 1923, 73 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Mauritz Stiller
Cast: Einar Hanson, Mary Johnson, Pauline Brunius, Hugo Björne, Stina Berg

Mauritz Stiller’s free adaptation of Nobel Prize-winner Selma Lagerlöf’s romantic melodrama has been described as ‘second-tier’ among the silent films, which make up the ‘Golden Age’ of Swedish cinema (1917–1924), partly because of its incomplete status, with some 680 meters missing from the original. Whilst the lost pictures cannot be retrieved, the Swedish Film Institute has effected a restoration of the film, authentically color-tinted, with all its intertitles reassembled, even for scenes, which no longer exist. The result is a perfectly coherent narrative, with what Jon Wengström of the SFI calls the ‘juicy stuff’ (such as a spectacular reindeer sequence) still intact, revealing what might be the most intensely beautiful, intriguing and ambitious of Stiller’s ‘saga’ films, impeccably composed and designed, and blessed with Julius Jaenzon’s stunning photography, which includes hallucinatory special effects on a par with Victor Sjöström’s THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE. The story tells of a dreamy young man (the exceptionally handsome Einar Hanson) who, groomed to take over the family business, rejects his duty, is injured and becomes deluded, and is nursed back to health and sanity by love and music. Without doubt, a ‘first-tier’ film. —Clyde Jeavons, BFI London Film Festival

Print courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute


The Goose Woman
Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
(USA, 1925, 80 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Clarence Brown
Cast: Louise Dresser, Jack Pickford, Constance Bennett, Marc McDermott

Based on the short story by Rex Beach, the plot of THE GOOSE WOMAN would have resonated with audiences of the mid-1920s by dramatizing a key component of the notorious 1922 Hall-Mills murder case—namely, a witness nicknamed “the Pig Woman” who gave unreliable testimony during the investigation in an attempt to solicit media attention.

Directed by Clarence Brown, the movie depicts the tale of Mary Holmes, a former prima donna who tragically lost her singing voice while giving birth to an illegitimate son, Gerald. Unable to move beyond this moment of great misfortune, she has descended into a life of crushing poverty and alcoholism, and bitterly blames her only child for the loss of her true love: celebrity. When a murder is committed next door to her derelict ranch, Mary hatches a plan to generate publicity for herself in the local press, unintentionally snaring Gerald as the prime suspect in the case. Fatefully, she is confronted with a decision that will determine her son’s destiny—and ultimately, her own.

Brown’s signature use of symbolism is clearly evident throughout the film (most notably in an early scene where Gerald accidentally breaks his mother’s only recording of her famed singing voice) and displays a deft hand guiding the moments of comedy that periodically relieve the story’s dramatic tension. Jack Pickford plays the role of Gerald with a reserved and nuanced performance, while Constance Bennett is impressive as Gerald’s fiancée Hazel, displaying some early signs of the innate screen charisma that would make her a star in the 1930s. But it is Louise Dresser who commands the picture with her portrayal of Mary and her astonishing transformation from disheveled harridan into a woman redeemed by the power of love.

Ultimately, critics and audiences alike favorably received the film, and Brown would again team with Dresser in his next film (the Rudolph Valentino hit THE EAGLE) before achieving greater fame at MGM directing the likes of Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. THE GOOSE WOMAN would be remade in 1933 as THE PAST OF MARY HOLMES featuring Helen McKellar and Jean Arthur. —Steven K. Hill, UCLA Film and Television Archive

Print courtesy of UCLA Film And Television Archive


Mr. Fix-It
Accompanied By: Dennis James
(USA, 1918, 65 mins, 35mm)
PREMIERE of this restoration!
Directed By: Allan Dwan
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Wanda Hawley, Marjorie Daw, Frank Campeau, Leslie Stuart

This sparkling 1918 romantic comedy from director Allan Dwan catches Douglas Fairbanks on the cusp of superstardom. Fairbanks stars as Remington, aka Mr. Fix-It, a happy-go-lucky American at Oxford whose school chum, Reginald Burroughs (Leslie Stuart), has been called back to the States by his starchy, upper-crust aunts (Ida Waterman, Alice Smith, Mrs. H.R. Hanckock) and uncle (Frank Campeau) whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years. Reginald knows his snobbish family will never approve of his English fiancée (Marjorie Daw), so Remington offers to go in his place, impersonating Reginald long enough to (hopefully) change everyone's minds. “Reginald” arrives in America to find his aunts have arranged for his marriage to an unhappy debutante (Margaret Landis), but he soon finds a true love of his own when meets Mary (Wanda Hawley), a poor orphan who has been left to care for her much younger brothers and sisters. As the irrepressible MR. FIX-IT sets about playing matchmaker while untangling numerous romantic complications, what begins as a genteel comedy-of-manners culminates in a fast-paced chase across tenement rooftops and down through the city streets, showcasing just the kind of physical derring-do that would soon make Fairbanks the biggest male movie star in the world.

George Eastman House’s preservation of MR. FIX-IT began in the early 2000s using the only known copy of the film in existence: a fully tinted nitrate print that had arrived at Eastman House as part of the Roberto Palme Collection. From this rare element a duplicate negative and color positive print of the film were made, but like many U.S. silent films exported for international distribution, the original English language intertitles had been replaced with a foreign language translation. Thanks to generous funding provided by William and Nancy Goessel, the Goessel Family Foundation and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, all 160 titles have now been painstakingly restored to English and printed using the original typeface and design. After remaining virtually unseen for decades, MR. FIX-IT is once again ready for the big screen. —Ken Fox, George Eastman House

Print courtesy of George Eastman House


The Woman Men Yearn For

Accompanied By: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
(Germany, 1929, 85 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Kurt Bernhardt
Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Kortner, Frida Richard, Oskar Sima

Several years before Joseph Von Sternberg swathed her in leathers and feathers for his dances of passion and power in SHANGHAI EXPRESS and THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN, and mere months before donning the silk panties and top hat of THE BLUE ANGEL, Dietrich [in THE WOMAN MEN YEARN FOR] gave a performance that looks completely recognizable in terms of her later films. Without question, her charisma is in full flower, suggesting that she brought rather more to Sternberg than is usually acknowledged. Dietrich works her trademark stillness, economy and intensity, with all the centrality of a star, and from her striking entrance, she is photographed like a star, yet Bernhardt’s silent film was forgotten in the rush to talkies and the excitement of THE BLUE ANGEL, and Marlene herself was content to forget it.

A rhapsodic whirl of infatuation, the triangle plot ostensibly takes place in France, but it conveys a dreamlike feeling of its characters drifting together by chance. As Henry Leblanc, a young industrialist pressured into a strategic marriage with the daughter of a wealthy tycoon, the only way to stave off bankruptcy of his family's steel business, the tall, lanky Uno Henning combines strength with an appealing vulnerability. This Swedish actor has an air of boyishness, underscored by an early scene depicting him as a mama's boy, implying that in some sense he is not completed as a man, as virginal as his bride, the better to show him being blindsided by eros.

Boarding the train that will take the couple on their honeymoon to the Riviera, Henry suddenly sees a window shade lifted, revealing Dietrich gazing at him with a look that changes both their lives. Like twin searchlights crossing in the night sky, they lock eyes, unable to break their charged look, and unable to move or speak. This is not a seduction, yet the love-with-a-stranger tension between them seems as intimate as the sex act itself. It also provides the key to convince us that he would renounce all his obligations, deserting his bride on their very wedding night. Finally her male companion enters the frame, breaking the spell as he pulls down the shade. Who is she? Who is the man who accompanies her? What is this couple’s dynamic? As her suspicious companion Karoff, the monocled Fritz Kortner acts both possessive and possessed... —Excerpted from a piece by Robert Keser in Bright Lights Film Journal

Print courtesy of Murnau-Stiftung

Individual tickets and festival passes may be purchased online at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

Artistry of the Credit Roll #5 - Auntie Mame

Auntie Mame
(Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

And the Oscar goes to......

Clifton Webb's Membership Card 1966

The Margaret Herrick Library is a mecca for all kinds of film reasearch and film studies.  One of the fun things recently added to the Academy website is a database of acceptance speeches for Academy Award winners.  My goodness how things have changed!  Back in the day, acceptance speeches were fairly brief and to the point.  Unlike todays litany of names being thanked from parents to babysitters as well as the caterer who served at your last party.  (Okay, call me jaded)

Not all years and all winners are represented.  I'm devastated that George Sanders did not give an acceptance speech for his award for his work in All About Eve as the delicious Addison deWitt.

In any case, this is one of many fun features on the Academy website.  A complete searchable database of past winners and nominees is useful and online. 

The Academy also has a youtube channel showing acceptance speeches and other favorite moments like the infamous streaker.

Here are a few samples from the database of acceptance speeches:

Year: 1947 (20th) Academy Awards
Category: Actor in a Supporting Role
Film Title: Miracle on 34th Street
Winner: Edmund Gwenn
Presenter: Anne Baxter
Date & Venue: March 20, 1948; Shrine Civic Auditorium


Whoow! Now I know there's a Santa Claus. Oh, you may laugh, ladies and gentlemen. It's not so easy to be certain, you know. He's a most elusive little fellow. He turns up in all sorts of places under all sorts of names and disguises. First time I ever met him he told me his name was George Seaton. And wonderfully, George Seaton has his revenge by bringing him to life. About a year and a half ago he suddenly turned up in Culver City and told me his name was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. That was the day Metro agreed to loan me to Fox to make the picture. And now I think it's time Santa Claus added a word to his name. I think he ought to call himself Santa Claus, Incorporated. Santa Claus, Inc. Inc.! For then he would embrace all you wonderful, kind people who have done me the honor of making me stand here tonight. Thank you, all of you, for making the evening of my life such a happy one. Thank you.

© Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Year: 1947 (20th) Academy Awards

Category: Actor
Film Title: A Double Life
Winner: Ronald Colman
Presenter: Olivia de Havilland
Date & Venue: March 20, 1948; Shrine Civic Auditorium


Ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy and very proud and very lucky. Lucky because I know I wouldn't be standing on this stage tonight without the grand contributions of so many others. A great script and a great part from Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. The wonderful help of George Cukor, Michael Kanin and Bill Goetz. And I'm not forgetting a splendid cast and all the departments that gave their skill and talents to making this picture. So, to all of them especially, my deepest gratitude. And to you, ladies and gentlemen, my warmest thanks.

© Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


Year: 1942 (15th) Academy Awards

Category: Directing
Film Title: Mrs. Miniver
Winner: William Wyler (not present; accepted by his wife, Margaret Tallichet Wyler)
Presenter: Frank Capra
Date & Venue: March 4, 1943; Ambassador Hotel, Cocoanut Grove (banquet)


Thanks so much, everybody. It makes me very happy to accept the award for Willy. I wish he could be here. He's wanted an Oscar for a long time and I know it would thrill him an awful lot to be here. Probably as much as that fight over [unintelligible] did. Thank you so much.

© Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

San Francisco Silent Film Festival - A Look Forward to Day 2

The second day of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival begins with Amazing Tales From the Archives I.  UCLA will be in the house to talk about restorations, fragments and show clips of projects in progress.  A free program, I always look forward to getting hints at what might be in the pipeline and seeing the little bits that are all that is left of films I'd dearly love to see.

Huckleberry Finn

Accompanied By: Donald Sosin
(USA, 1920, 85 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: William Desmond Taylor
Cast: Lewis Sargent, George Reed, Gordon Griffith, Edythe Chapman, Thelma Salter

Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is one of the most famous American novels of the 19th century. First published in 1884, the book has never been out of print. The character of Huck Finn has appeared in over 40 films starting with the 1917 version of TOM SAWYER, and was most notably played by Mickey Rooney and Eddie Hodges in THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1939 and 1960 respectively). But the first film version of HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1920), after its initial released, passed into film history and with the advent of talking pictures in the late 1920s would be forgotten and almost lost forever.

William Desmond Taylor (1872–1922) who was under contract to Famous Players-Lasky (which would later take the name of its distribution company of Paramount Pictures) had directed TOM SAWYER (1917) starring Jack Pickford and THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1918). So Taylor was the logical choice to direct HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Lewis Sargent as Huck started his film career only a few years before with Fox Films, in ALADDIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP. An actor with a lot of presence and charm, Sargent was a perfect Huck Finn. Wanting to be as faithful to the novel as possible, Taylor went on location to Mississippi to shoot the film. Upon its release in February of 1920, HUCKLEBERRY FINN was both a critical and commercial hit.

Less than two years after finishing HUCKLEBERRY FINN, William Desmond Taylor was dead. His body was discovered lying on the floor of his living room by his butler on the morning of February 2, 1922 with a bullet wound in the back. A major investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department followed, but to this day the murder remains unsolved. Like most people who worked in silent film, his body of work is fragmentary at best. Taylor directed 64 films in the nine years he was working in Hollywood. As of this writing only 18 are known to exist.

Print courtesy of George Eastman House


I Was Born, But...

Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
(Japan, 1932, 90 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Tatsuo Saito, Tomio Aoki, Mitsuko Yoshikawa

There are a handful of silent, black-and-white old movies that have the power to make all the subsequent advances in the medium look redundant. When you watch, say, Charlie Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS or THE GENERAL by Buster Keaton, you are aware of such complete mastery of the emotional and narrative possibilities of cinema that color and sound seem like so much distraction and filigree. Everything you could possibly want is here, and indeed the addition of anything else would only subtract from the perfection of the art.

I WAS BORN, BUT...” a silent feature from 1932 directed by Yasujirô Ozu, is such a movie. Ozu, who died in 1963, is best known to American cinephiles for his post-World War II dramas like TOKYO STORY and EARLY SPRING, delicate and rigorous stories of family life and generational tension in a changing Japan. The exquisite precision of Ozu’s shooting style is certainly evident in I WAS BORN, BUT... The mood, however, is comic, at times boisterously so, and the setting is a world where relations—among classes, between parents and children—seem fixed rather than fluid.

Which is not to say that there is no conflict. There is both overt and implicit violence, only some of it cushioned by the giddy energy of slapstick. And beneath the “Our Gang” schoolboy antics that make up much of the action is a clear-eyed and humane critique of inequality and authority.

The children—in particular Aoki, who was a big star in Japan at the time thanks to his appearance in Ozu’s STRAIGHTFORWARD BOY are equally adept at using broad pantomime to unlock the complexities of group relations and individual psychology. Everything in this film is utterly believable, so much so that at times it seems almost anecdotal, a sweet little anthology of kids doing the darnedest things.

That it is more—a small masterpiece, perfect in design and execution—almost goes without saying, but the film’s profundity and its charm go hand in hand. —Excerpted from the New York Times article by A.O.Scott

Print courtesy of Janus Films


The Great White Silence

Accompanied By: Matti Bye Ensemble
(UK, 1924, 106 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Herbert Ponting

A hundred years ago the British Antarctic Expedition led by Captain Scott set out on its ill-fated race to the South Pole. Joining Scott on board the Terra Nova was official photographer and cinematographer Herbert Ponting, and the images that he captured have fired imaginations ever since. Ponting filmed almost every aspect of the expedition: the scientific work, life in camp and the local wildlife—including the characterful Adélie penguins. Those things he was unable to film he boldly recreated back home. Most importantly, Ponting recorded the preparations for the assault on the Pole—from the trials of the caterpillar-track sledges to clothing and cooking equipment—giving us a real sense of the challenges faced by the expedition. Ponting used his footage in various forms over the years and in 1924 he re-edited it into this remarkable feature, complete with vivid tinting and toning. The BFI National Archive—custodian of the expedition negatives—has restored the film using the latest photochemical and digital techniques and reintroduced the film's sophisticated use of color. The alien beauty of the landscape is brought dramatically to life and shows the world of the expedition in brilliant detail. A happy scene of Scott and his team in a tent demonstrating how they would cook and sleep on their race to the Pole—the same tent that would be their tomb—is particularly poignant. —Bryony Dixon and Robin Baker, BFI National Archive

Print courtesy of the British Film Institute


Il Fuoco

Accompanied By: Stephen Horne
(Italy, 1915, 51 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: Giovanni Pastrone
Cast: Pina Menichelli, Febo Mario

Pina Menichelli’s diva in Giovanni Pastrone’s IL FUOCO is pure, unadulterated femme fatale. Like most dive of the Italian cinema of this era, she moves sinuously and elegantly, giving herself more to the camera than to the man she seduces. But unlike many of the other dive, in this role she is untouched by fatal disease, uncanny apparitions, or even by a blemished reputation. For once, the woman is as much an artist as the man. When writing a poem inspired by the sunset, she spies a young painter (Febo Mari) who seems to come close to capturing (with her help) the right tinge of red, and proceeds to initiate her seduction. She is a practiced predator. Her owl headgear, clenched teeth, and parted lips reveal an animalistic instinct to hunt but not to devour her prey. Rather, her pleasure is to pounce on her little field mouse of a painter, toy with him, and then toss him away. After she orchestrates his creation of a masterpiece with her as its subject—a daring and kitsch nude portrait modeled on Cabanel’s “The Birth of Venus”—she will have no further use for him.

Bypassing the familiar spectacle of female suffering, but not, as might be expected, by turning to any consequent pathos for the male, IL FUOCO offers the pleasurable spectacle of a diva whose only love is herself. Menichelli’s poet takes pleasure in her own taking of pleasure. Pleasing herself despite a pronounced disdain for her pleasure’s ostensible object, she performs a very pure kind of narcissism. All her seductive movements are activated by a counterforce that simultaneously pushes away what she must nevertheless attract–if only in order to be able to throw it away and exalt in herself alone. Italian silent dive are known for their convoluted, tortuous gestures, but to watch Menichelli quickly seduce her young field mouse and then just as quickly get rid of him is to truly understand the counterforces of attraction and repulsion. In a wonderful final touch of realism, the artist notices a mole on her breast and adds it to the painting. Displeased, Menichelli’s poet rubs it out, once again “correcting” his art, perhaps because it mars the ideal beauty of her nude but perhaps also because it would make her recognizable to the public. She seeks both recognition and anonymity. In the end, the only possible tinge of regret this diva will show will be yet another gesture of narcissism: to touch this mole on her breast in memory of a passion consumed by fire. —Linda Williams, Giornate del Cinema Muto

Print courtesy of Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino

Individual tickets and festival passes may be purchased online at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

San Francisco Silent Film Festival - Upstream and Sunrise

Opening Night for the 16th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival promises to be a wonderful evening. 

The evening begins with the San Francisco Premiere of the recently re-patriated John Ford silent Upstream.


Accompanied By: Sosin Ensemble

(U.S.A., 1927, 61 mins)
Directed By: John Ford
Cast: Nancy Nash, Earle Foxe, Grant Withers, Lydia Yeamans Titus, Raymond Hitchcock
Screening with the short WHY HUSBANDS FLIRT - new preservation premiere

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival opens on July 14 at the Castro Theatre with this spectacular restoration of a film directed by John Ford that was long believed lost.

UPSTREAM (1927) is one of 75 American films recently discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive. These “lost” films will be preserved over the next several years at five major American archives, including the Academy’s, in collaboration with the National Film Preservation Foundation. UPSTREAM is the first of the features to be preserved and screened for the public. The preservation work was carried out by Park Road Post Production in Wellington, New Zealand, under the direction of Twentieth Century Fox and the Academy Film Archive.

UPSTREAM focuses on a love triangle involving an egotistical actor (Earle Foxe) and a young couple (Nancy Nash, Grant Withers) who partner in a vaudeville knife-throwing act. The film is from an interesting chapter in the career of Ford, as he admitted that during this time he was strongly influenced by the work of German director F.W. Murnau, who had immigrated to the United States to make films for the Fox studios, enabling Ford to study his working methods first hand.

The Donald Sosin Ensemble (pianist/composer Sosin with featured players from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra) will accompany UPSTREAM as well as another discovery from the New Zealand Archive—a short comedy by Al Christie with Dorothy Dane and Bobby Vernon, WHY HUSBANDS FLIRT(1918). The film has recently been restored thanks to Frank Buxton.

Print courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
WHY HUSBANDS FLIRT preservation funded by Frank Buxton and Cynthia Sears
Print courtesy of George Eastman House

Following Upstream will be the beloved classic, Sunrise directed by F.W. Murnau.  Sunrise is arguably one of the greatest silent films ever made.  It is a film held in high esteem by many historians, archivists and film fans (myself included).


Accompanied By: Giovanni Spinelli

(U.S.A., 1927, 94 mins, 35mm)
Directed By: F.W. Murnau
Cast: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
Accompanied by Giovanni Spinelli on electric guitar

Presentation in association with Paolo Cherchi Usai

Silent cinema is the art form that died too young: "Not ripe for replacement," aesthetician Rudolph Arnheim wrote in 1930, three years after THE JAZZ SINGER broke the sound barrier, silent film “had not lost its fruitfulness, but only its profitability.” Indeed, many of the most innovative silent movies were produced in the mode's last days: Dreyer’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, Sjöström’s THE WIND, Vertov’s THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA, Dovzhenko’s EARTH, and Murnau’s SUNRISE.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931), a protégé of the great German theatrical impresario Max Reinhardt, was a formidable technician and arguably the supreme cine-aesthete of the 1920s: painter of light, choreographer of camera movement, and maestro of mise-en-scène. Murnau’s 1924 visual tour de force, known in the U.S. as THE LAST LAUGH, was one of the first (and few) silent features made without the benefit of intertitles. Following this international success and Murnau’s ambitious 1926 FAUST, movie mogul William Fox brought the “German genius” to Hollywood and gave him the key to the studio.

SUNRISE was shot silent, with very few titles, and released in late 1927, with a synchronized musical soundtrack. The early reviews were sensational; the grosses were not. Thirty years later, the ultimate cinephile magazine Cahiers du Cinéma declared Murnau’s first American movie “the single greatest masterwork in the history of cinema.” It's an assertion as reckless, romantic, and extravagant as the movie itself. —J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

Print courtesy of Criterion Pictures USA

Individual tickets and festival passes may be purchased online at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival website.

On the Bedside Table - Colleen Moore

Okay, not on the bedside table just yet.  Publication is Spring 2012. 

Jeff Codori of The Colleen Moore Project has finished his biography of flapper star Colleen Moore.  Jeff chronicled the long process of writing and publishing this book and I'm thrilled for him to have just about reached the finish line.  I've been patiently watching his site and waiting for the completed book.

The book will be published by McFarland and you can pre-order it here.

From McFarland's wesbite:

Colleen Moore (1899-1988) was one of the most popular and beloved stars of the American silent screen. Remembered primarily as a comedienne in such films as Ella Cinders (1926) and Orchids and Ermine (1927), Moore’s career was also filled with dramatic roles which often reflected greater societal trends. A trailblazing performer, her legacy was overshadowed by the female stars that followed her, notably Louise Brooks and Clara Bow.

An in-depth examination of Moore’s early life and film career, the book focuses on the ways in which her family and the times in which she lived influenced the roles she chose. Included are forewords written by film historian Joseph Yranski, a friend of the actress, and by Moore’s stepdaughter, Judith Hargrave Coleman.

About the Author

Jeff Codori is the creator of the Colleen Moore Project, a website devoted to strengthening the actress’s place in cinematic history, and to finding new sources of information about her.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rudolph Valentino Son of the Sheik Screening in San Francisco

Save the Date: July 10, 2011 at 2:00pm
The Place: San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium (100 Larkin Street, San Francisco)

In conjunction with the Reading the Stars exhibit in the library (4th and 6th floors), the SFPL will screen Valentino's 1926 film The Son of the Sheik.  The full line up of Shhhhhh Silents exhibits can be found here.

The Son of the Sheik was Rudolph Valentino's final film and a delightful film it is.  Valentino is cast in a dual role of Ahmed the son and Ahmed Ben Hassan the elder sheik (originally portrayed by Valentino in the 1921 film, The Sheik).  Young Ahmed falls in love with a dancing girl Yasmin (Vilma Banky) and believes he has been betrayed by her once he has been captured and torutured by a band of thieves.  Young Ahmed takes his revenge and it takes a few rousing fights and miscommunications to set things straight before there is a happy ending.  Agnes Ayres makes an appearence reprising her role from The Sheik as Lady Diana.  Montague Love co-stars as the baddie Ghabah the Moor and Karl Dane as Ahmed's loyal friend Ramadan.  Directed by George Fitzmaurice and E.M. Hull's novel The Sons of the Sheik was adapted by Hans Kraly and Francis Marion.  This Arabian fantasy has plenty of action, romance and humor packed into roughly 60 minutes.

I will introduce the film and also present a slideshow utilizing images that did not make the cut in my book Rudolph Valentino the Silent Idol.  With the abundance of riches at my fingertips, space prevented some, some were images I wished I'd been able to find and others came into my hands after publication.  It's an enjoyable glimpse into Valentino's world.  I will also have copies of the book on hand for purchase and autographing.

Thomas Gladysz of the Louise Brooks Society and editor of  the Louise Brooks edition of Margaret Boehme's 1905 novel Diary of a Lost Girl will also be on hand to sign copies of his book.  Thomas has also curated the Reading the Stars exhibition. 

The Son of the Sheik is one of Valentino's most engaging films and hope to see you there!