Monday, July 22, 2013

Jason goes to Silentfest--The End

And Jason is freakin' exhausted, so excuse me if I'm not blogging with my usual energy.

After a good 4 hours of sleep, I was back bright and early at the Castro for some breakfast at Orphan Andy's and a 10:00 am program of The Kings of Silent Comedy. The program was introduced by a mainstay of the festival, Mr. Leonard Maltin...on video from L.A. For the first time in something like 8 years he wasn't there in person at the festival. But that didn't keep the rest of us from having a good time.
FELIX GOES WEST (1924): Maltin made a great case for Felix not just being a cartoon star, but a true comedy pantomime star, rivaling the likes of Chaplin. In this one a hungry Felix catches a trip out west, to the land of opportunity. There he gets into a bit of a scrape with the Indians and a bear. Pretty funny, but with the jumps in this I have a feeling we saw a print with missing scenes.
MIGHTY LIKE A MOOSE (1925): My favorite of the lesser-known silent comedians, Charley Chase brought the house down with this story of an ugly, buck-toothed husband (Chase) and his equally ugly big-nosed wife (Vivien Oakland.) Unbeknownst to each other, they each get work done to fix their imperfections, and actually look quite nice. So nice when they meet they don't recognize each other and start an affair where they have to sneak around their spouses to see each other. Confusing? Only the way I described it. On screen it made perfect sense and was absolutely hilarious. Maybe my new favorite short comedy ever.
THE LOVE NEST (1922): Buster Keaton's final short film before moving on to features, and one of his darkest and most surreal ones. Since his sweetheart broke off their engagement, he has decided not to marry her. Instead, he'll set out in a tiny boat to sail around the world. He's picked up by a whaling ship with a fearsome captain who tosses anyone who displeases him overboard. Wacky hijinx ensue, ending with Buster on a naval practice target. Weird and funny.
THE IMMIGRANT (1917): Chaplin, his leading lady Edna Purviance, and his classic giant foil Eric Campbell. Chaplin's little tramp comes to America and gets into all sorts of trouble. Most notably with the difficulty of trying to pay for a meal at a restaurant (Campbell plays the surly waiter demanding he cough up for the bill.) Classic Chaplin, very funny.

Then we had an extra treat with a home movie of Stan Laurel at home with his lifetime achievement Oscar and his marionettes of himself and Oliver Hardy. In some ways it's weird to see this star aged, but when he pulls that classic Stan Laurel smile, it was delightful.

And speaking of delightful, Günther Buchwald did an excellent job accompanying on the piano and violin.

THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE (1918): A tradition of the festival for about as long as I've been going has been to play a Swedish film, and this year it was Victor Sjöström's (known in Hollywood as Victor Seastrom) dark epic from Iceland. Sjöström stars as the titular outlaw, a stranger who appears in a village and takes work on Halla's (Edith Erastoff, the future Mrs. Sjöström) farm. Jealous rivals accuse him of being a thief, and while in this case he's innocent, it's true that he has a history. He is the infamous Eyvind, known as "Mountain" Eyvind, a notorious thief (although, to be fair, he only started stealing to keep his parents and siblings from starving to death. He and Halla run away and become one of Iceland's many mountain outlaws. They live the for a few years, even have a daughter together. But all has to come to a tragic end, if not at the hands of the villagers searching for them, but at the hands of a cruel, harsh, and uncaring nature. SPOILER ALERT: there's a controversial scene where to keep their daughter from being captured and raised by the villagers, Halla tosses her off a cliff to her death. A powerful and shocking scene, but also made me lose all sympathy for her.

The Matti Bye Ensemble accompanied and did an excellent job as always. 

THE LAST EDITION (1925): Then we got some local SF flavor with this story set in the San Francisco Chronicle. This wasn't a lost film so much as a forgotten film, and while it's not the most artistically polished or innovative film in the festival, it's a solid story well told. Tom McDonald works in the printing press for the Chronicle (the film showcases the entire printing process, which was fascinating.) He lives by and preaches a simple code of truth, love, and duty. His son has just become a lawyer and he couldn't be more proud. But when an investigation into a notorious bootlegger leads to his son being framed, McDonald has a moral crisis. Chases in San Francisco, a crime thriller and newspaper drama rolled into one. Heck, forget what I said about this not being artistically polished or innovative. It's just a darn good story and I loved it.

Stephen Horne accompanied, and after that performance he's officially an honorary San Franciscan. I guess he can go back to England when he wants to, but we own a part of him.

THE WEAVERS (1927): Then this film was, in my opinion, the sleeper hit of the festival. Set in 1844 Silesia (a region that overlaps Poland, The Czech Republic, and a little bit of Germany,) and based on an 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptman, this tells the story of the uprising of cotton weavers. They have been kept in poverty by the villainous Dreisiger family, the lords of the region who control the cloth trade. They alone get to decide who gets work weaving cloth and how much they get paid. People are starving to death, taking the family dog to the butcher so they can eat one more day (what the hell, the dog would've died of starvation anyway.) There is hope, in the beginning they make a big deal of the Knights of the Order of the Swan, an order specifically set up to eliminate poverty. After little debate they come to a grand conclusion--they must go to Africa and bring Christianity to the negro race (hey, their words, not mine!) Eventually it just gets too much, and in a glorious (and timely) explosion of revolutionary rage, the weavers march on the Dreisigers, storm their home, and destroy everything (but don't set it on fire, then the insurance will pay out--the point is to make the Dreisigers as poor as the weavers.)

Günther Buchwald accompanied on the piano and sang the weaver's anthem, and I have to say he's a wonderful addition to the festival. Welcome to the SFSFF team, Günther!

SAFETY LAST (1923): And finally we ended the festival on a high note (after a couple of nights of long, depressing films to end the night, it's good to send the crowd home happy.) I was actually not that excited to see it. I have seen it so many times (including just last March at Cinequest, with Dennis James rocking the might Wurlitzer at the California Theatre in San Jose.) Plus it wasn't going to be on 35 mm film, but a 2K (not even 4K) DCP (Digital Cinema Package.) And I have to admit the first few seconds of title cards I was annoyed it was DCP. And then I heard the rest of the audience reacting. There were so many people seeing it for the first time. And what a glorious venue for that. Hoots of laughter, gasps of fright at Lloyd's death-defying climb up the building. I remembered a few things. First, this movie still works. No matter how many times I see it it's still hilarious and I'm still thrilled to the point of trembling at the famous climb. Second, nobody around today saw the original premiere in 1923--everybody has a first time seeing it and I shouldn't look down on anyone who hadn't seen it before. In fact, if anything I should envy them, getting the chance to discover it for the first time. And I would, if I wasn't too busy enjoying it like it was my first time, too.

And it was a premiere of a sort, it was the first time the Mont Alto Orchestra's score was played for an audience. And they were amazing!

The whole darn festival was amazing!

I'm so exhausted...and now time to get to work.

Total Running Time: 425 minutes
My Total Minutes: 334,798

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