Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 13

Just one film last night (Tuesday*), and it was the annual SFIFF presentation of a silent film with live music. I haven't seen the silent films at SFIFF since 2010 and the Stephin Merrit 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA atrocity.

Well, this was the German expressionist classic WAXWORKS (1924), in a print with French intertitles (with English translations superimposed from a second projector), which they got from Italy, of course. A rather simple tale of a writer (Wilhelm Dieterle) who takes a job writing back-stories for the figures in a wax museum--the caliph Harun al Raschid (Emil Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Conrad Veidt), and Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss.) He inserts himself and the museum owner's beautiful daughter (Olga Belajeff) into the stories. The Caliph story is a comedy, the Ivan the Terrible is more of a dark drama, and the Ivan the Terrible story is a horror nightmare.

The accompanists were Mike Patton (from Faith No More) and percussionists Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi, and William Winant. So I knew going in that it was going to be a bit of a percussive cacophony, and I expected it. I just hoped that they would do a good job of complementing the film--let the action in the film lead the soundtrack, and don't fight with it. Unfortunately, for the most part it didn't. Some parts were good (the climactic chase scene in the Caliph sequence, especially). But for the most part, it was a concert that happened to have a film playing in the background. It's good as a concert (and from the standing ovation they got from ~1/2 the crowd, I'd say Patton's fans sure loved it), but I'm there as a movie fan and wanted the movie to be forefront, not the music.

I guess I should just give up on the experimental music/silent film pairings at SFIFF. Plenty of people love it, but it's just not my cup of tea. I'm not an absolute traditionalist (I don't insist on always hearing the original score, although I always appreciate it) but I at least want a film-first, complementary-music it experience. And I have plenty of opportunities for that. There's the big SF Silent Film Festival in July, along with their other programs throughout the year (like the upcoming Hitchcock Nine.) Or there are the silent programs every year at Cinequest, which always feature the masterful Dennis James. Or the semi-regular silent programs at the Stanford. Or at the PFA (if you can't make the Hitchcock Nine at the Castro, they're bringing them all to the PFA in August, with the excellent Judith Rosenberg on the piano.) Judy's also one of the regular pianists at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum where you can see silent films with live music every Saturday Night (and for only $5). You can also tour the museum noon-4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and if you're lucky you might even find me there giving tours.

So yeah, I have no shortage of excellent silent film experiences here in the Bay Area. I'm not going to fret about a more experimental take on it that I didn't really dig. Especially when so many other people did enjoy it. I'll just avoid these in the future (unless, of course, they bring in someone with a real, established record of accompanying silent films the way I like.)

Running Time: 71 minutes
My Total Minutes: 327,540

*Daily obligatory sleep-deprivation correction. Yesterday was Tuesday, not Thursday as originally stated. But then, it was probably Thursday somewhere in the world, just not here. I don't know how time zones work.

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