Saturday, June 9, 2018

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 9

Two more films on Friday, starting with ROLLER DREAMS, a look at the roller dancing scene on Venice beach from the late 70s all the way up to...whatever it is today. But focusing on the 70s and 80s, when it was good. When it was an oasis of freedom, and a way to have good fun and not get into trouble in the 'hood. A place where you could be yourself, learn some moves, and have a good time with good music. Oh yeah, and it was a black thing. Not the whitewashed version that made it to Hollywood, most famously in XANADU. On Venice beach itself, the stars were people of color, like Mad, the leader of the group. Or Sally Piano, the leading lady. Or Terrell, the kid. Or Superion Duval. Or Crazy Legs Larry Pitts and Buck Wild Jimmy Rich. These were all beautiful, vibrant personalities (a few of them were there for the screening, and the Q&A was awesome!) Unfortunately, with the 90s and gentrification came noise complaints (which were bullshit, it was really "too many black people having fun in public" complaints) and time restrictions. Eventually the cops realized that for the first time in decades, they needed that particular strip of pavement for emergency access to the beach. And their "fair" solution--move to a smaller, more secluded section where nobody will see them. It's ridiculous that something as innocent as roller skating became political, but that's the world we live in. I don't know how to end this on a positive note, because it is really a positive movie. It's just, even in the most positive stories, some parts of the world still suck.
Sally Piano showing off some moves
And then I stuck around for FREAKS AND GEEKS: THE DOCUMENTARY. I might have been the only person in the theater who hasn't seen the TV show, and it didn't really matter (although I want to binge it at my next opportunity...which won't be until after the festival is over.) Directed by Brent Hodge (PISTOL SHRIMPS, Docfest 2016) the documentary is about way more than the cult show that launched the careers of Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco and Linda Cardellini, Busy Phillips, John Francis Daley, and many more.) It's also about the risk-taking dramedy that would never be on network TV today, and probably shouldn't have been back in 1999. Nowadays, there would be all sorts of other outlets--cable channels, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.--where a small, daring, quirky show would be a hit. And give some credit to NBC for giving it a shot--after all the other networks turned it down. Also give them plenty of scorn for cancelling it after less than a full season. And, in fact, give the documentary a hell of a lot of credit for interviewing the executive who made that decision. Because it wasn't a critical flop--it was a hit with the credits and a lot of executives really personally liked the show. It's easy to cancel something shitty with bad ratings. It's hard to cancel something that's good--and you know it's good--but it still has shitty ratings. But for the creators Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, success is the best revenge. Especially for Apatow, who has made it something of his own personal vendetta to make sure everyone on that show became a star, just to show NBC execs what they missed.
Great doc, about a show that I guess it's way past time for me to binge

Total Running Time: 154 minutes
My Total Minutes: 483,025

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

A night of music docs, which has always been an Indiefest/Docfest thing.

First up was a completely packed screening of GODFATHERS OF HARDCORE. A portrait of a seminal New York hardcore punk band, Agnostic Front. It's full of great archival footage, but the real treat is the modern stuff--interviews really getting to know the guys, and footage of the concerts they still do all the time. Vinnie Stigma is a total live wire. A vibrant, crazy personality who is full of stories from the old days and humorously rail against the gentrification of his neighborhood. The complete opposite is Roger Miret (who was there for the screening) who is a control freak, planning everything, and admits he doesn't know how to relax (and is the subject of a pretty drastic health scare.) The movie takes an engaging and interesting tour through their stage shows, their home lives, and their legacy. Although it's weird to talk about "legacy" when they're still rocking hard today, into their 60's.
Vintage footage of Agnostic Front, who are still rockin' today

Then the next show started with a way-too-long short, SAN FRANCISCO'S FIRST AND ONLY ROCK N' ROLL MOVIE: CRIME 1978. Vintage footage of a shitty local band in the 70s. I was bored, except by the comments of the venue's emcee (we learned afterward that those comments weren't originally between the songs, but at the end of the show, as he was trying to get everyone to leave.) There's a potentially great avant-garde movie to be made just out of the comments from that emcee, you just need to get rid of everything featuring the band (or as they like to advertise, the "banned.")
Crime--ironically dressed as police

And that was the lead-in to the way-too-long feature, ICEPICK TO THE MOON. It starts with the mythical Rev. Dr. Fred Lane, a "stripmine crooner" with dadaist roots. The swinging, jazzy music is the backing for the ridiculous lyrics. And his legend grew in large part due to his record covers, which included fictional covers of his "other" records (in fact, he only released 2.) The first 20-30 minutes of the documentary covers this urban legend aspect--is Fred Lane even real? Then it pretty unceremoniously answers it. His real name is Tim Reed, he lives in Tuscaloosa, he;s a dadaist artist from way back, and he now makes whirligigs and sells them at art fairs. And he's an all-around cool weirdo, as we find in this exhausting film, which takes us to the early days and his equally bizarre dadaist friends, who form the collective Raudelunas and explore pataphysical science. He's a fun guy, the whole group is fun. They just deserved a better documentary, one that was perhaps more judicious in the editing and less repetitive in their desire to use every bit of Fred Lane footage they could possibly find.
Fred Lane, being Fred Lane
Total Running Time: 234 minutes
My Total Minutes: 482,871

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 7

Two more shows on Wednesday, starting with Shorts 2: Women. Hooray for films about kick-ass women!
FEAR US WOMEN: Hanna Bohman, kicking ass by joining up with the YPJ, an all-female Kurdish army. Bonus, ISIS members believe that if a woman kills you, you automatically go to hell.
Hanna Bohman in Syria, killing ISIS
EXIT: Heidi and Sara, kicking ass by leaving the ultra-orthodox community and fighting for women's rights.
The orthodox community Heidi and Sara are exiting from
NELLIE BLY MAKES THE NEWS: Nellie Bly, kicking ass as a muck-racking undercover "stunt" journalist, starting with an exposé on the terrible conditions in a mental asylum, culminating in a race around the world (where she broke Phileas Fogg's fictional record of 80 days...and enjoyed tea with Jules Verne along the way.) From Vanguard award winner Penny Lane (NUTS! and THE PAIN OF OTHERS.)
An overview of Nellie Bly's work.
NO MORE:Two assault survivors, kicking ass by working on Doug Jones' campaign and defeating Roy Moore. Shot entirely on the day of the Alabama Senate special election, as they hustle to get out the vote, then watch tensely as results come in. I forgot how much of the night Moore was ahead until the later precincts came in.
Celebrating Doug Jones' victory (and more importantly, Roy Moore's defeat)


Then the late show started with the short SWEET LOVE. Alvin Bojar lives in a retirement community in Florida. His neighbors don't know that among his many former pursuits, he was a movie producer, and produced a cult soft-core porn comedy called Fongaluli. It's the wild story of a scientist who is trying to make inter-species love work, and the mysterious weed that turns animals into beautiful naked women. Surreal absurdity, as explained by a nice old man.
Alvin Bojar, in his retirement community--waiting.
And finally the feature THE BILL MURRAY STORIES: LIFE LESSONS FROM A MYTHICAL MAN. It seems every few weeks a different Bill Murray story pops up on the Internet. He showed up to a college dorm party and stayed to do the dishes afterward. He joined a kickball game for a while. He photo-bombed a newly wed couple. He sang karaoke, or tended bar, or played tambourine, or anything wacky and cool with regular folks. Director Tommy Avallone starts out a bit incredulous, and the movie starts as an exploration of whether these stories are really true. He meets a lot of people with stories, and they all swear they're true. That's cool. He then sets about trying to interview Bill Murray himself. Interestingly, Bill doesn't have an agent. He has a 1-800 number, that is a semi-carefully guarded secret, and you can call and leave a message. Eventually Bill will read it, but it's very unlikely he'll respond. Instead, he appears to love the spontaneous moments. The "Yes, and..." of his background in improv. There's arguably a zen approach to all of this, and the movie even explores how his movies play with this "live in the moment" philosophy. The film ends up being a portrait of a man who knows how to say "Yes, and..." to life. How to be lost and happy about it, meeting the locals and making--if just for a brief moment--a connection that people will remember and recount for the rest of their lives. Probably a greater gift than any of his movies. And one that we can actually all give each other. We actually don't need Bill Murray to do this.
The Man, the Myth, the all-around pretty good guy
Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 482,637

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 6

A couple more films Tuesday night, a night of politics and social justice.

COMPLICIT is the story of migrant workers in China, leaving their impoverished country farms looking for a better life in the factories of the big cities. Instead they find unsafe working conditions, toxic chemicals, leukemia, nervous system damage, and death. But hey, at least we get cheap cell phones, right? Or...at least Apple gets to make more profit on their cell phones, right?

Okay, there wasn't much in this film that I didn't kinda know already. Some of the dirty shenanigans I didn't know all the details, like technically none of Apple's or Samsung's suppliers use the offending toxic chemicals--but of course their subcontractors do (Apple and Samsung, of course, could take responsibility for their entire supply chain, not just the first tier.) Mostly it's putting a human face on the suffering that has a strong impact. But the film does get kind of repetitive (confession, I dozed off for a bit, but was assured by my friends that I didn't miss much. And, for what it's worth, it's not just a Chinese problem, there's exposure to toxic chemicals in the U.S., too. (I happen to know way too much about some E&HS issues at a certain...let's leave it unnamed, but say it's a State University right here in San Francisco)

Most importantly, right after the movie I got right onto my smart phone and Googled ethically sourced cell phones. The top of the list, Fairphone, is so far only available in Europe. But I also found a handy ethical comparison guide that revealed my phone--the Google Pixel--to be the absolute worst. Worse than the iPhone or Samsung. Way to not be evil, Google motherfuckers!
A migrant worker, who didn't get the better life she was looking for

And then the next program started with a short, THE END OF WEED. A meditation from a simple country farmer, about his worries that his simple business won't be able to survive as the big companies move in and turn "growin' weed" into "cannabusiness."

That was the lead-in to the feature, MY COUNTRY NO MORE. This explores the oil boom in North Dakota from the point of view of locals--focusing on the Rider family--who are concerned about the refinery that the oil companies want to put right in town, next to the train tracks. Not cool, since they've lived of the land there for their entire lives, and have a strong connection to the landscape. It's a lyrical story of activism, preservation, and land use zoning laws. The oil boom, powered by fracking, has undoubtedly been an economic miracle for North Dakota. But there are multiple layers of importance at play here, and the environmental, social, and possible even existential layers are at odds with the financial benefits of unchecked "progress." This is captured in personal stories and breathtaking, beautiful cinematography.
Kalie Rider, trying to keep an oil refinery out of her neighborhood. In one of about a thousand beautifully composed shots in this film.
Total Running Time: 176 minutes
My Total Minutes: 482,451

Jason his to Docfest--Day 5

I of course missed days 2 through 4 with the silent film extravaganza, but now I'm at Docfest full time until the end. Here's last Monday

I started with COBBY: THE OTHER SIDE OF CUTE. Director Donna McRae makes herself a very personal character in this story, as it starts with her memories of being a lonely single child in Adelaide, Australia, and watching a funny black-and-white chimp show every day after school. Cobby's Hobbies, and it's silly theme song, was her constant friend, and has come back into her memory decades later. She interviews friends who also grew up in Adelaide, and there's a recurring theme of the show being very popular among lonely single children. So she sets off trying to find more about the show, and about its star. Well, although she comes across as hopelessly naive, the movie unsurprisingly exposes a lot of the dark side of animal performers--starting from the moment as babies when their parents are killed and they're raised in captivity. She interviews people who worked on the show, zookeepers, and animal rights activists. Everyone seems to have stories about animals that suffered at the hands of humans. In fact, most of the cute animal entertainers ended up as laboratory animals, suffering even more inhumane treatment. Cobby, however, avoided that. In fact, he's living in the San Francisco Zoo to this day, one of the oldest chimpanzees in captivity. Sure, he doesn't have his freedom--and he wouldn't be able to survive in the wild--but he has the most comfortable captivity possible.
Cobby during his show business days. 
Cobby enjoying his retirement. He seems much happier now. Image courtesy of http://savesfzoochimps.blogspot.com

And then next up was SICKIES MAKING FILMS. Coming from the Silent Film Festival, this was kind of a cool way to transition from old films to today's films. It's an abbreviated history of the films, focusing on the issue of censorship--exclusively censorship in America, and focusing on the last censorship board that existed in Maryland. Of course, that board, led by Mary Avara, was John Waters' infamous nemesis, and one he gleefully mocked in his movies. He's also highly featured in this film, where he's a little more mature and nuanced, and actually speaks with pity for the board. But I was more interested in the earlier history, where there are tidbits about early censorship (actually, going back to Roman times where the "censor" was the one running the census, who determined if individuals were decent enough to be considered Citizens.) Police were initially given powers to enforce local community standards (leading to some films, in some places, being censored for for mocking the police.) Then rulings that censors could only go after obscenity, not political or plot content (you wonder why sexual content get stricter ratings than violence--this is part of it.) Then talkies, and the added complication of censoring words, not just images. Then, of course, the Hays code, eventually replaced with the MPAA rating system. But still, a few censorship boards--especially Maryland's--stuck around way past their point of usefulness (a separate debate of whether they were ever useful is...interesting.) Anyway, it was a fun film, and a great way to bring my mind from the movies of 100 years ago up to today.
Censors censoring. Fuck 'em
Total Running Time: 169 minutes
My Total Minutes: 482,275

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Jason goes to SilentFest--The End

It seems like it just started, did 5 days go by that quickly? Just kidding, I'm exhausted!

But not too exhausted to still get breakfast at Orphan Andy's (pretty much the only place I've gotten a real meal since Wednesday) and be in the front row in time for Serge Bromberg Presents...

Serge Bromberg is a longtime friend if the festival, an excellent historian, archivist, preservationist, restorer, and most importantly for today, showman.
This man is in your Castro Theater, narrating your 3D films. Image courtesy of the SF Silent Film Festival.
He started off with one of his classic demonstrations of why so many old films are lost. I.e., he burned little silver nitrate film on stage. This always tickles my evil side, knowing he's doing that in front of a full audience of silent film fans. Anyway, it burns really well.

ROBINSON CRUSOE (1902): Before we got the the 3-D extravaganza, Serge debuted this recently discovered and restored Georges Méliès film. What some people don't know about very early silent films--before the innovation of intertitles--is that they were intended to be shown with a live narrator. The lack of narration often makes these films hard to understand. But there was no such trouble with Serge doing the narration himself. In fact, with Serge you don't just get the story, you get weird asides and jokes, too. Oh yeah, anyway, the film. It's a beautiful, hand-tinted, very familiar story of Robinson Crusoe.

MOTOR RHYTHM (1939): An animated Chrysler Motors show reel, with the component parts of an automobile coming together. A cute treat, which was re-released in the 50's during the 3-D craze back then. At the time it was sometimes incorrectly called the first 3D film. This is, of course, incorrect, as Serge went on to demonstrate in many ways.

First up, he showed us the happy accident of 3D films by Georges Méliès. Méliès never intentionally made a 3D film. What he did do was invent a dual-film camera for shooting two copies of a film at the same time, one for release in Europe and one for release in America. This was an anti-piracy measure, after his VOYAGE TO THE MOON was copied and released as VOYAGE TO MARS by Lubin. Another thing Méliès did was succumb to the financial pressures of continued piracy, and in a fit of depression burned the negatives of all his films. So...surviving Méliès films are all due to collectors, and of course restoration houses will attempt to piece together films from multiple sources to try to recreate the best version of the film. This is what Serge was doing with THE INFERNAL CAULDRON (1906) when he noticed that every time he switched from a European source to an American source the film would jump slightly. It never lined up quite right. And that's when he figured out that Méliès's dual-film camera had a parallax between the two films, and about 100 years after the fact...the 3D versions of a few of these films were created. At least, if both a European and American print exist.
THE ORACLE OF DELPHI (1903): A thief tries to steal from the famous oracle, when a spirit guarding the tomb appears. He makes statues come to life and gives the thief a monkey's head.
THE INFERNAL CAULDRON (1906): The one that started this 3D adventure. Demons throw captives into a cauldron, where they disappear in puffs of smoke. Now, an interesting thing with these 3-D films is often only parts of one print exist. So for some time it's 2D (because one lens in the stereoscopic glasses is blank) and suddenly jumps into 3D. In this one, that happens to occur right at one of these puffs of smoke, making for some extra accidental magic. Méliès would be pleased, I'm sure!
THE MYSTERIOUS RETORT (1906): An alchemist asleep in his lab. Suddenly strange emanations come from his vessel, either a nightmare or a miracle of the mystic sciences.

Well then we got to see a few of the Lumière Brothers stereoscopic selection from 1935. Note, the Lumières, credited with the invention of the film camera/projection system, had a very short career. They were more inventors than filmmakers (and allegedly thought this whole "moving pictures as entertainment" was a fad that would soon pass. So after moving on in ~1905, they did return with a new moving picture invention in 1935, a stereoscopic camera which they used to recreate their famed TRAIN PULLING INTO A STATION (1896), this time in 3D. Confusion over the 2D and 3D versions of this film probably led to a probably apocryphal story of audiences reacting in fright at the original screening. It makes more sense that they would do that for the 3D screening. Although I gotta say, it's bulling into the station well to the side of the screen, so not that frightening. There was also 3D footage of a woman and her baby (if I heard correctly, that was Louise Lumière's daughter?) And some scenes of a beach and harbor. Unfortunately, their 3D projector did not fit easily into most projection booths (well, it fit...sideways) so while they were great inventors, they weren't very successful businessmen.

Then we got a stereoscopic demonstration from 1900. Not originally on film, but on paper, in stereoscopic flipbook form, at 4 frames per second. But scanned and projected a good century later. And being French...it comes within a few frames of revealing a pornographic scene!

And finally, we ended on THE MERRY FROLICS OF SATAN (1906): This is the brand new, newest accidental 3D Méliès, literally hot off the presses. In fact, the first time in front of an audience and since his spot on stage doing the narration didn't give him a good view for the 3D, we got to see it in 3D before Serge did. So much fun, as a couple of inventors are tricked by Satan. They get to travel the world--and the stars--but are tormented by the devil and his minions all along the way.

And the opposite of tormenting all along the way was the wonderful accompaniment by Donald Sosin.


A THROW OF DICE (PRAPANCHA PASH) (1929): Then we took a little trip to India, where Sohat and Ranjit are cousins, who rule neighboring kingdoms. They're going on a nice little hunting trip together, but Sohat's henchman "accidentally" shoots Ranjit with a poisoned arrow. Oh well, he'll die soon, and Sohat will have to take over his kingdom. But wait, there's a hermit doctor who just happens to live right there, and he can cure King Ranjit, no problem! Extra bonus, he has a beautiful daughter, who may become Ranjit's Queen. Oh, but her father forbids it, as he clearly has a gambling problem, and the wise old man knows that will cause him great suffering. It's a fun movie, with a painfully naive hero, a comically evil villain, and a ridiculous plot. But most importantly, it has beautiful cinematography, direct from India (where it was shot on location.)

And even more important, it had the brilliant Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius accompanying it.
Kings fighting. Still courtesy of...the Internet.

THE ANCIENT LAW (DAS ALTE GESETZ) (1923): Then from India we headed to Austria, for a good Jewish tale that's pretty clearly an inspiration for THE JAZZ SINGER. We start in a poor shtetl where Rabbi Mayer is a studious and popular leader. His son Baruch is equally studious, and has the eye of the lovely Esther.  On Purim, he creates a bit of a stir by playing the king in the traditional play--a rabbi's son, engaging in such frivolous antics? Worse yet, he catches the acting bug, and wants to leave to try his hand at acting professionally. This is something that his friend, the travelling beggar Ruben Pick, sees as a good thing. But his father forbids it. So he just has to run away. And thus begins his multiple struggles to obey the ancient talmudic law, while also learning the ancient law of the theater, and running into the ancient court law of etiquette. A great story, well told, of a family fractured and then redeemed. Also pretty cool to see a Wiemar German film from the time that showed Jews and their traditions in a positive light. And it features one of the coolest parallel action scenes I've seen in a long time, showing the crowd awaiting the opening night of Baruch starring in Hamlet while back in the shtetl everyone arrives at the synagogue for Yom Kippur services.

And it was all brought home with the brilliant music of the Donald Sosin Ensemble (Donald, Sascha Jacobsen, and David Short of Mont Alto) along with special guest violinist Alicia Svigals, whom Donald credited with composing the main theme. 
Baruch Mayer hamming it up in the Purim play. Still courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek

FRAGMENT OF AN EMPIRE (OBLOMOK IMPERII) (1929): Well it was quite the world tour on Sunday. After France, India, and Germany/Austria, what could be next? How about Soviet Russia, and a brilliant restoration of this film. Fridrikh Ermler should be in the conversation with Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov when talking about great Russian silent film auteurs. The film opens with the horrors of war during the Revolution, including a pretty shocking surreal scene of Jesus on the cross in a gas mask (needless to say, in most markets censors cut that out.) Filimonov is shell-shocked and can't remember a thing. Nonetheless he manages to save a soldier who is on death's door (and thirsty enough to suckle on a dog, in another shocking scene.) 10 years later, a bit of his memory returns. Like...enough to remember he's a soldier, and he has a wife back home. So he travels home to St. Petersburg to find her. And he learns about the Soviet revolution, and the new system, and the fact that they have no masters anymore, because everyone is their own master in this Communist utopia.

Except I beg to differ. Ermler is the master. And so were the masterful Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius, providing the accompaniment. By the way, everyone who gave this a standing ovation at the end--myself included--automatically became a member of the Communist Party. Good job, comrades!
Holy shit, that's Jesus in a gas mask! This movie is intense. Still courtesy of SFSFF

BATTLING BUTLER (1926): So finally we returned home to the good old U.S. of A. for a nice, light comedy. Although not topping anyone's list of best Keaton films nowadays, this was a big hit at the time, both critically and at the box office (It was much more successful than his follow-up, some train flick called THE GENERAL.) Keaton plays Alfred Butler, a wealthy dandy and a weakling whose valet (Snitz Edwards) does all the work for him, including shaking the ash off his cigarette and putting it back in his mouth. His father thinks a camping trip will do him good to toughen him up. Well, it doesn't quite do that but it does introduce him to a beautiful mountain girl (Sally O'Neil) and soon he is planning to marry her. In fact, he's so serious...he asks his valet to arrange it. The thing is, her family can't stand any weaklings. No problem for the fast-thinking valet, who just noticed in the paper that a prize-fighter who is challenging the champ also is named Alfred Butler (and goes by the name "Battling Butler.") So he can claim Buster is the prize-fighter, and when the champ knocks out the real Battling Butler as expected, he can "retire" to obscurity. The only way this can go wrong is if Butler actually pulls it off. Well...guess what happens. Of course, more wacky hijinx ensue as Buster has to impersonate a boxer and gets into many shenanigans as a result. And of course, true love will give him the strength to fight eventually. Lots of fun, and after a 5 days of silent film, this was a true feel-good way to end it.

And helping out with the feel-good spirit was the magnificent Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Fun fact: what Buster is doing here is technically considered boxing. Still courtesy of the Cohen Film Collection

And that, finally, was SF SilentFest, 2018 edition!

Total Running Time: 443 minutes
My Total Minutes: 482,106

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Jason goes to SilentFest--Day 4

Another full, full day of films, starting with NO MAN'S GOLD (1926) starring Tom Mix and, of course, Tony the Wonder Horse! As part of the Niles gang, my heart will always be with Broncho Billy, but I totally understand how Tom Mix surpassed him in popularity (hey, when you're the first, no one can take that away. When you're the best, someone will always eventually come along and surpass you.) Fast paced action with adventure and comedy. A man is shot while riding back home to stake his claim. He's found a huge vein of gold, and in his dying words he gives three parts of his map to the three men who find him. Little does he know one of them is the villain who shot him, Frank Healy (Frank Campeau.) The others are hobo Lefty Logan (Harry Gripp, basically playing the same character he played in Mix's GREAT K&A TRAIN ROBBERY in the same year,) and of course Tom Mix as "Tom Stone." Eva Novak joins the cast as the love interest who can also ride a horse, and Micky Moore (who went on to have a great career as a second unit director, including the silent-serial inspired Indiana Jones movies) as Jimmy Rogers, the young son of the miner who was shot. Anyway, non-stop action ensues, and it's a great pick-me-up for the bleary-eyed 10 a.m. audience.

Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius kept things humming along briskly, including opening it in appropriate Saturday morning style, with a sing-a-long of the movie's theme song...written just minutes before by Donald Sosin. Awesome!

Tom Mix puts Mickey Moore to bed. He will sneak out and join in the adventures, of course. Still courtesy of SFSFF

MARE NOSTRUM (1926): Next up was a melodrama of seafaring and WWI, directed by Rex Ingram (THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE) and starring Antonio Moreno as the Spanish sea captain Ulysses Ferragut. In the opening scene, young Ulysses is pulled between his uncle Triton--who encourages him to continue the family tradition of seafaring and find the mystical sea goddess Amphitrite--and his father, who wants him to abandon the sea like he did, and become a lawyer. I guess I already revealed that the sea wins out. But more importantly, although he becomes a captain and husband and father, he falls for a woman he meets in Italy, Freya Talberg (Alice Terry.) She happens to look just like his uncle's old painting of Amphritite. But she also happens to be a German spy, and she (and her network) convinces the otherwise neutral Spaniard to help refuel a German U-boat. Terrible consequences ensue, of course. Loosely based on the Mata Hari case, it's a gripping and exciting action-drama.

And Stephen Horne performed brilliantly again in accompaniment, assisted and once again Frank Bockius on percussion.
A breech of a U-Boat's hull. Still courtesy of Photoplay


The next show started with the 9 minutes that probably had the most local anticipation SAN FRANCISCO AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE (1906): Recently rediscovered and restored, I saw the digital restoration in Niles just a month and a half ago. Well, this was the 35 mm premiere, which is basically the same footage, but on an order-of-magnitude larger screen, and with the final sequence tinted red. There's basically a reprise of A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET, showing a similar hustle-and-bustle but now with destroyed buildings and people hustling to rebuild. Then there's footage of refugees leaving from the ferry building to rebuild elsewhere (or at least, stay elsewhere until they can return.) And finally there are scenes of them dynamiting the remaining precarious structures so they can rebuild. I guess rebuilding is the theme. Still amazingly cool.

TRAPPOLA (1922): And then the feature was a fast-paced comedy from Italy. Italian diva Leda Gys stars as Leda Bardi, a young lady living in an orphanage run by nuns, and getting into all sorts of trouble. Effervescent doesn't begin to describe her, as she goes from orphan to runaway, to accused thief, to hero, to movie extra, to movie star, to avenger of her friend (whose betrothed turned her away in favor of a film diva,) to traitor to her friend, back to friend when she realizes the guy she fell for was a completely different Claudio. All in a light 62 minutes. Whew!

And the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra kept pace with their score, and Amanda Salazar had probably the toughest job reading all the Italian intertitles in English without falling behind.
Leda Gys praying to the Madonna to get her the heck out of the Catholic orphanage. Still courtesy of Cineteca Milano


THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (DER HUND VON BASKERVILLE) (1929): Then a little something for the Sherlockians in the audience, a recent restoration of the last silent Sherlock Holmes film. Long thought lost, then found in the basement of a Polish church, this was pretty exciting.  Carlyle Blackwell stars as Sherlock Holmes, and  George Seroff co-stars as Dr. Watson, in pretty much the first film that treated Watson as more than part of the set dressing. The story is familiar to any Sherlockian, and to my poor memory this adaptation is more or less faithful. It's definitely got the German influence (including, inexplicably, never getting that Baskerville doesn't have an S at the end.) But it's got action, humor, mystery, and of course Sherlock Holmes being brilliant. Oh, and it's got a scary looking hound. Cool.

The brilliant accompaniment was courtesy of the Guenter Buchwald Ensemble, consisting of Guenter Buchwald, Sascha Jacobsen, and again Frank Bockius--who just had to work all day today!
Holmes and Watson wrap up the case. Still courtesy of Deutsches Filminstitut
THE SAGA OF GÖSTA BERLING (GÖSTA BERLINGS SAGA) (1924): And finally, we ended the day with a bit of a Swedish epic (complete with a half-hour intermission.) An incredibly playful epic, while still being dramatic and moving. Lars Hanson stars as Gösta Berling, who is introduced as a cavalier (may I say, that term is a little distracting during the NBA finals, as our local team is playing the Cleveland Cavaliers) leading a band of carousing cavaliers. In the opening sequence they're enjoying their Christmas feast when Gösta announces a toast to the 13th partier, which confuses them since there's only 12 of them. Soon enough, Satan himself barges in, ranting about how their beloved mistress keeps her riches by promising the soul of one cavalier every year! He is, of course, soon revealed to be the inn-keeper playing a joke. That's the sort of playful epic this is, even at times when it gets awfully dark. Anyway, we learn Gösta's entire saga, from when he was a priest who liked the drink a little too much and was defrocked. To his time as a tutor--and how that was a weird inheritance plot by the madam of the house. Up to his time as a cavalier and the strange, soap-opera-ish entanglements that ensue. Including with the lovely Elizabeth Dohna, wife of the son of the house who will someday inherit it all. Oh yeah, she's played by Greta Garbo, in her first starring role. Despite the playful nature of the meta-narrative, there's enough drama, deceit, and cruelty that you never know until the end if it will all turn out alright. It's an epic melodrama of human weakness and human forgiveness.

This is the movie that not only brought Garbo to Hollywood, but also director Mauritz Stiller--although his stint in Hollywood was nowhere near as successful. Mostly, he's known as the guy who discovered Greta Garbo, and allegedly came up with her new name (Greta Gustafsson just didn't work as a screen name.)

And the Matti Bye Ensemble accompanied brilliantly, of course. They're representing Sweden, too!
It would make more sense to show Lars Hanson as Gösta Berling, but how can you not show Greta Garbo in her first co-starring role? Still courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute

Total Running Time: 498 minutes
My Total Minutes: 481,663