I always like to do a quick writeup when I attend a festival or event where Century Films are shown, and yesterday I flew to San Francisco for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s “A Day of Silents” at the Castro Theater. There were six blocks of movies on the schedule, all with live musical accompaniment, and all worth seeing in themselves. There was also a book signing and a vendors’ room, conveniently located on the mezzanine level of the Castro. Overall, the event was well-managed and professional, although maybe a bit more “serious” in tone than some of the other festivals I’ve attended.
The only true Century Films to screen yesterday were the opening block of Chaplin shorts from Essanay Studios. They showed “His New Job,” “The Champion,” and “A Night in the Show,” all of which I’ve reviewed before (follow the links). In fact, they used the recent digital restorations from Blackhawk films prepared by Flicker Alley, which is exactly the prints I watched on DVD for the reviews, so there was nothing new to me. However, as I’ve long known, silent comedy always benefits from the presence of a live audience, and this was no exception. The experience was boosted by the attendance of my ten-year-old nephew Kai, who laughed and bounced in his seat throughout.
Other close-to-100-year old movies included “Anders als die Andern” (“Different from the Others”) and a collection of Pathé newsclips, some of which dated as far back as 1910. “Different” was a social-reform movie made in Germany to oppose Paragraph 175 of the legal code, which made “active” homosexuality a crime. I’ll be reviewing it in 2019. The Pathé collection (1910-1925) included images from the First World War, the Mexican Revolution, and the soon-to-begin Russian Revolution, as well as uprisings in Ireland and South Africa. Anyone who thinks of the Silent Era as some kind of “simpler time” should look at these clips and think again (they didn’t even include footage of the massive KKK March on Washington in 1925).
The movies from the twenties were “So This is Paris” (1926), “Strike” (1925), “The Last Command” (1928) and “Sadie Thompson” (1928). Of these, special mention should go to the Alloy Orchestra for providing an appropriately bombastic score for Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature film. I generally find Eisenstein to be heavy-handed and awkward, despite his great reputation, but with the right music, the images can become an exciting ride. This was a case, for me, of the music being better than the movie. I should also mention Donald Sosin, who gave us piano scores for most of the other movies that fit the pictures nicely.
Generally, the SFSFF manages to happen at a time when I’m too busy with grading to travel, but this one-day jaunt to San Francisco was a pleasant diversion at the end of an academic term. I hope there will be more like this in the future.