Friday, June 10, 2016

Jason goes to Silentfest--The Finale

And I've fallen about a week behind, all while I've been attending Docfest. So I hate doing this, but this'll be a super-quick abbreviated update.

The first program, bright and early, was on Fantasia of Color in Early Films. I'm not going to describe all of the movies, but for the record they were:
THE TULIPS (1907)
THE WONDERFUL BOOK (1905)
THE CHARMER (1906)
BOUT-DE-ZAN AND THE CROCODILE (1913)
DUTCH TYPES (1915)
THE MILLS (1913)
ALGERIAN DANCES: DANCE OF THE OULED NAIL (1902)
THE FAIRY OF THE STARS (1902)
THE KING OF DOLLARS (1905)
THE PENALTY OF RETALIATION (1906)
THE GOLDEN OBSESSION (1906)
THE TRIP TO JUPITER (1909)
THE PARISIANS (1897)
THE ACROBATIC SISTERS OF DIANEF (1902)
GOOD EVENING FLOWERS (1909)

And it was a beautiful program, reveling in the fact that color was around from the very beginning of film. Even well before Technicolor and other photo-realistic color systems, the art of hand painting, stencils, tinting (soaking the developed positive prints in a color bath, so the whites got colored,) and toning (a chemical process during developing the negatives, to give color to the black parts of the black and white film) brought the joys of color to the earliest films. And it's really cool to see, and to hear Donald Sosin playing for it.


Next up was a cool gender-bending double feature listed in the program as Girls Will Be Boys

I DON'T WANT TO BE A MAN (1918): Ernst Lubitsch makes a delightful comedy in which Ossi Oswalda is a young woman who likes to smoke, drink, and play cards. But her gender keeps her from going to the coolest clubs. But not if she dresses up like a man. And she passes pretty well as a clean shaven dandy-ish young man. And she learns how rough men are, and how rude women are. And she makes a new best friend. In fact, the film features their "bromance" blossoming into something really special (she kisses him, as a man.) Excellent.

WHAT'S THE WORLD COMING TO? (1926): A Hal Roach production, starring Jim Finlayson as a husband 100 years in the future, when women wield all the power and men are the weaker, meeker sex. Featuring "blushing grooms" and handsome, tuxedoed brides.

And featuring the music of Maud Nelissen and Frank Bockius accompanying.


Then I finally got a chance to check out a movie I've always heard of, but never actually seen, NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922): The first "documentary" despite its questionable claims of authenticity, is still an engaging story with a likeable character and his family. That it plays fast and loose with the facts is both undeniable and important. But also the fact that it's a sensitive portrayal of a way of life that used to be, even if it's long gone by the time the movie was made, is also important. As is the fact that this movie kind of set the mold for how documentaries are done--for good or for bad.

And of course, if it's set in a cold environment, the Matti Bye Ensemble has to provide the music. And they were fantastic.

And then one of the great revelations of the festival, DESTINY (DER MÜDE TOD) (1921): Fritz Lang's grand, epic battle of Love vs. Death. A mysterious stranger moves to town, buys up the land by the cemetery, and builds a giant wall with no doors or gates. This is death, and only he can take you through the walls--and no one can come back out. But when he robs a young bride of her groom, she attempts suicide to join him. The sympathetic portrayal of death--a spirit hated by all, just for doing God's will--is very powerful. And in his sympathy he makes her a deal. 4 candles are about to go out--the candles representing the life of a person. If she can keep just one of them from going out, he will let her live and give her her husband back. And so the story travels to ancient Persia. And to Venice. And to Imperial China. And is exquisite and daring and bold and powerful each and every time. But no (spoiler alert) Love cannot conquer Death. But it can willingly join it.

And the Stephen Horne Ensemble--Stephen Horne, Frank Bockius, Guenter Buchwald, and Brian Collins (of the Mont Alto Orchestra)--were magnificent in providing the music.


Next up was LES DEUX TIMIDES (1928): René Clair with another of his unique little comedies. We start with a bumbling, timid young lawyer bungling his very first case and getting his client sentenced to the maximum for (allegedly) beating his wife (the flashback scenes of both the prosecution and defense describing his domestic behavior is pretty fantastic.) Later, he and his client are rivals for the hand of a beautiful young lady. She loves him, but he's too timid to even talk to her father. Her father is likewise timid, and gives in to the ruffians demands to marry his daughter against her will, unless the timid young man can save the day. The middle part starts to drag a lot--since it's the story of timid people, much of the action is hemming and hawing and refusing to take action. But the ending is excellent as all hell breaks loose.

And the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra was likewise excellent providing the score.

And then the grand finale, WHEN THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1919): Douglas Fairbanks, in one of his social comedies before becoming a swashbuckler (although he still finds plenty of opportunity to show off his athletic talents.) He also wrote the story, about a mad scientist who is intent on driving a person crazy to prove he can drive him to kill himself. His poor victim is Fairbanks himself, a pleasant but superstitious young man, who always seems to screw up. His butler (in the employ of the scientist) feeds him disagreeable food late at night, giving him nightmares. That makes him late for work, where his uncle has to fire him. But things turn around when he meets a nice, equally superstitious girl and falls in love. But the scientist just ups his evil plot with this new wrinkle, and an oil land swindle that's...not worth sweating the details. The most powerful part of it--and something I've been thinking about ever since--is near the end. And I have to get a bit spoiler-y about that. Fairbanks is driven to the brink, and we get a look inside his mind as the queen of reason is shaken off her throne by paranoia, fear, despair... And just at the critical moment, it's the heroic jester--sense of humor--who defeats the evil forces and returns reason to her throne. And that idea--that a sense of humor is our most powerful weapon to protect our sanity--is still true, and still profound today. I love it.

And Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius sent us off in style. And finally, Silentfest 2016 is in the books.

Total Running Time: 458 minutes
My Total Minutes: 430,899
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