Saturday, May 30, 2015

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 2

Well, really evening 2, since I had to work during the day, but I was up for one excellent film and one very weird film

THE LAST LAUGH (1924): Emil Jannings stars in this F. W. Murnau film, and just dropping those two names you know it will be brilliant. And, of course, it is. Jannings plays a doorman at the prestigious Atlantic Hotel. His flashy uniform with his bright buttons is an enormous source of pride, especially when he's around his poor neighbors. So it's a huge blow when he's demoted to washroom attendant, ostensibly on account of his age and frailty. But he refuses to lose face in front of his neighbors, so he steals back his uniform and continues as if nothing happens. Of course, this can't last and he has to suffer tons of humiliation. There is a final reel, forced upon Murnau by the production company UFA, which gives Jannings a grand happy ending. And, well...it's easy to dismiss it and tune out of the film at the down ending if you want. But Murnau did pull it off in grand style, giving Jannings the real last laugh. Murnau had definitely established a visual and directorial style, grandly displaying inner psyches through outward actions, and he and Jannings are masterful at it here.

The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra made its SFSFF debut accompanying this film, and their score--composed, conducted, and played by students--was magnificent (if I wasn't told, I'd never guess they were students.) The only nitpick I have is that having a conductor standing on a podium blocks a significant bit of the bottom of the screen, so I had difficulty leaning from side to side to read the subtitles around them (oh yes, them, there were multiple conductor, as each student had scored one real of film--based on a common theme--and each passed off the baton to the next to conduct their reel.) Something to think about when (not if) they are invited back. Either block off the seats that have a bad view, or play something with English intertitles so I don't have to read subtitles on the bottom of the screen, or--like they did with the next film--have someone read the English translation of the intertitles.

THE GHOST TRAIN (1927): This odd English/German co-production only exists in French, hence the translation intertitles read by Paul McGann. It's a visually interesting and very funny movie based on a hugely popular play by Arnold Ridley. Six strangers are on a train, making a connection in the not-ominously-named-at-all Hellbridge to continue on to London. There are the newlyweds cooing over each other, the married-for-one-year couple bickering constantly, the uptight woman on her way to a temperance meeting, and a darned fool. Well, the fool goes and loses his hat out the window and pulls the emergency break, causing everyone to miss the connecting train to London and have to spend the night in Hellbridge. And when they're there, the station agent warns them of the haunted ghost train that comes through at midnight. So it's a spooky, goofy night-in-a-haunted house, except the haunted house is a train station. And it's got a sensibility that could've come right out of Scooby-Doo (yes, even down to the twist ending) if it didn't predate it by over 40 years. Pretty awesome. Especially when temperance lady gets drunk and starts dancing.

And speaking of awesome Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius did the musical accompaniment, with an upbeat dash of goofiness that perfectly matched the film.

And that's the start of the big weekend. Looking forward to 5 films tomorrow! (technically, today, as it's a little past midnight. Better go get some sleep.)

Total Running Time: 179 minutes
My Total Minutes: 397,491
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