Friday, May 29, 2015

Jason goes to Silentfest--Opening Night

The most intense weekend of film in the bay area film festival calendar kicked off last night, and of course I was there. The SF Silent Film Festival has expanded one more day, ending on Monday instead of Sunday night. I have my day job, so I'll be missing the Friday and Monday matinees, but I'll be glued to front row second row center (have to leave room for the musicians) for the as much as I can.

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930): We started with this Academy Award winner--well, the talkie version, shot concurrently, won the Academy Award. And now I'd really like to see both of them back to back (I just bought the blu-ray that contains both) Because the silent version is magnificent. Staying pretty close to Erich Maria Remarque's book (yay, I can pretend to be literary because I had to read it in high school!) it tells the story of German schoolboys becoming soldiers and going off to fight in WWI. Tomfoolery and antics gives way to military discipline, which gives way to absolute terror in the trenches. The war scenes are impressive in their unflinching depiction of graphic violence (including disembodied hands of a dead soldier still gripping a line of barbed wire--a scene I remember vividly from the book.) And are equally impressive in their realism, including hundreds of extras in the fighting scenes. It's a pretty bleak story, of course, but very well told. And as important as the bleak, depressing, realistic depictions of war are the very funny scenes of camaraderie that develops among the soldiers (at least, the ones who survive.) The film also features Raymond Griffith in his final role (as a French soldier who dies in a foxhole with the German protagonist Paul (Lew Ayres) watching over him and freaking out over the horrors of war. Griffith was a huge silent star (almost entirely in comedies,) but a casualty of the talkie era because a childhood illness left him unable to speak above a whisper. So a dying soldier unable to speak was a perfect cameo role for him.

The Mont Alto Orchestra accompanied and was brilliant, of course. And it also featured live Foley at times, particularly in the war scenes. In fact, some of the most effective scenes were when the music stopped and the sound effects took over. All in all, magnificent!

Running Time: 130 minutes
My Total Minutes: 397,312

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