Saturday, June 2, 2018

Jason goes to SilentFest--Day 3

Another full day of silent film in the Castro, starting bright and early at 10:00 am.

GOOD REFERENCES (1920): Constance Talmadge stars as a young lady in the city, looking for work, but not finding any because she doesn't have any references. She happens to run into a lady with impeccable references (from the Vanderbilts, no less!) but who happens to fall ill. So, it's a shame to let those references go to waste. Wacky hijinx ensue in this light comedy, including Vincent Coleman as her employer's college dropout son (who hasn't exactly revealed he's a dropout) and his equally disreputable buddy played by Ned Sparks. A comedy of high society vs. illegal underground boxing ensues.

And Donald Sosin was there at the piano to help the comedy along brilliantly.
A boxer passes himself off as a gentleman at a society ball. Still courtesy of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

THE OTHER WOMAN'S STORY (1925): From Preferred Pictures--don't let the name fool you, this was a lower-end studio. Pretty much the only starring role for Helen Lee Worthing, who plays the titular "other woman." Seems her lover is on trial for killing the lawyer who was serving him with divorce papers. And it's a pretty airtight case. One witness after another gets up, and through flashbacks from their testimony, we see a story play out. Jean Prentiss (Worthing) was business partners with Colman Colby (Robert Frazer,) and allegedly there are pictures proving they were more than that. Scandalous, since Colby is married. Also, powerful evidence in divorce proceedings, which is why lawyer Robert Marshall (Mahlon Hamilton) was holding on to them (allegedly.) One night Colby goes to visit him. The next morning Marshall is dead. And Colby's coat is still there. And the maid didn't see/remember anything. Except maybe there were two knocks on the door that night. Well, despite the overwhelming--but circumstantial--evidence, Jean is convinced Colby is innocent. And even after it goes to the jury she still investigates to (hopefully) prove it. A cool whodunit, which I like.

Stephen Horne accompanied, and I won't even attempt to remember/guess at all the instruments he played. But he was, of course, fantastic.
Helen Lee Worthing protests Colby's innocence. Still courtesy of SFSFF

Then time for a real treat, with Silent Avant-Garde Cinema, introduced by someone who is not just an local Avant-Garde artist, but an Avant-Garde experience, Craig Baldwin. I couldn't begin to describe these all...but I'll try.
ANÉMIC CINÉMA (1924-26, Marcel Duchamp): Spirals and puns--unfortunately, in French, and I don't speak French. But there's no better way to start than with the master Dadaist, Duchamp.
PAS DE DEUX (from the Looney Lens series from Fox Movietone, 1924): A couple of guys goofing around, dancing, mugging for the camera. All in a funhouse-mirror lens.
Then a series of Slavko Vorkapich montages. Easily the best part of the series, these montages were all Vorkapich, and used as parts of feature films. I need to learn more about this Vorkapich guy!
SKYLINE DANCE (1928): A montage of buildings, shadows, and dancing. Part of an otherwise lost film called MANHATTAN COCKTAIL
THE MONEY MACHINE (1929): A brilliant composite shot, used in the 1929 film called THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (not the 2013 Scorsese one)
PROHIBITION (1929): An expressionistic history of the roaring 20s and the sudden imposition of Prohibition, part of the 1928 Emil Jannings film SINS OF THE FATHERS.
THE FURIES (1934): White cloaked demon women break glass and kill lovers, in part of CRIME WITHOUT PASSION (1934)
A BRONX MORNING (1931, Jay Leyda): Exactly what it sounds like, a fly-on-the-wall observational look at a morning in the Bronx.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413–A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA (1927, Robert Florey, with Slavko Vorkapich once again!): A brilliant and biting satire of Hol-ly-Wood, where the extra is nothing more than a number, and the star is given kudos for wearing standard masks. Heaven forbid the extra actually be a better actor than the star.
HÄNDE (1927, Mikos Bandy and Stella F. Simon): Dancing hands. For 13 minutes. It was fun for about 5.
1931 Mexican footage by Sergei Eisenstein: To be honest, I dozed off in part of this, but I could see it was some excellent footage of Day of the Dead celebrations. I wish I had snoozed more during the dancing hands instead of during Eisenstein.

And of course, when the Silent Film Festival brings the weird and avant-garde, they have to bring the Matti Bye Ensemble, who were brilliant as always!
The Furies are going to get you. GIF courtesy of...the Internet

ROSITA (1923): Mary Pickford directed by Ernst Lubitsch, it's gotta be great, right!? Well, it wasn't Pickford's favorite of her films (although accounts that she wanted it destroyed are almost certainly false.) She plays a street singer in Seville. Carnival is her jam, but the king (Holbrook Blinn) interrupts her singing and costs her a day's profit. Ironic, since the king was there to make sure the depravity didn't get out of hand, even though he's the most lecherous one in the kingdom (the queen put him up to it.) And when he raises taxes on top of it, she eviscerates him in song. Well, his soldiers arrest her, but gallant Don Diego (George Walsh) comes to her defense. Which is unfortunate, because he ends up killing a soldier and they both end up in prison. Of course, she's pretty enough to catch the eye of the lecherous king, so she's safe, but Don Diego is kinda fucked. That is, until wacky hijinxe ensue. I don't care if Mary Pickford didn't really like her own work here, I think it's pretty hilarious and kinda great.

And you know who is more than kinda great? The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, who accompanied this film.
Mary Pickford side-eyeing...something offscreen. She should be side-eyeing the king, but that's dangerous. Still courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Collection 

MOTHER KRAUSE'S JOURNEY TO HAPPINESS (MUTTER KRAUSENS FAHRT INS GLÜCK) (1929): Well, then it was getting into the evening, so time for some darker films. A Weimar German film, set in the Wedding district of Berlin--a poorer neighborhood, full of struggle and suffering, and communist sympathies. Mother Krause (Alexandra Schmitt) lives in a tenement building with her grown son, grown daughter, a lodger, his prostitute girlfriend, and her child. She makes ends meet by selling newspapers, but that leaves no margin for error. Her daughter meets a nice man named Max at the fair. Perhaps he'll be a good husband for her? Certainly he understands Marx and how feminism is a part of the worker's struggle. The movie moves at...let's say a "deliberate" pace (IMDb puts it at just over 2 hours. I thought it was longer, although it was brilliant and engaging all the way through.) Eventually the plot revolves around her son Paul spending some of the newspaper money on beer, and her not having enough to cover her costs. Mother Krause has precious little time to come up with the difference before she's fired from the newspaper and sent to prison for theft. Rest assured, there is NOT a happy ending. I mean, the film is a masterpiece, it's just a super-depressing masterpiece. One that watching once is enough.

And Sascha Jacobsen and the Musical Art Quintet were masterful in accompanying this masterpiece.
The entire house sitting down to dinner. Still courtesy of the Munich Film Museum

POLICEMAN (KEISATSUKAN) (1933): And finally, we ended the night with a Japanese masterpiece. You know a film is good when Eddie Mueller introduces it (except when he admits it's bad, but that wasn't the case tonight.) I mentioned yesterday in my write-up of AN INN IN TOKYO how it's so cool that because Japan didn't switch over to talkies immediately the way the U.S. did, they continued to get more sophisticated with silent film. I'm not sure if Hollywood would've gotten this sophisticated if the silent era lasted another 50 years. It's a super-stylish crime drama--proto-noir, if you will (and you will!) Itami (Isamu Kosugi) is a police officer, and a good one. He is beloved in his community for the little things (like helping kids with their stuck kite.) His old school chum Tetsuo (Eiji Nakano) has come back to town, and they catch up over tea, food, and sake (although Itami resists, since he is, after all, a policeman.) Then there's a bank robbery. One of the criminals is caught, but one gets away--but is injured in the leg in the melee. Shortly thereafter, Itami notices that Tetsuo is walking with a limp. Could he be the masked criminal who got away? Anyway, he's trying to catch the criminal (who also put the chief of police in the hospital during the getaway) but his loyalty to his old friend is maybe keeping him from investigating too hard. It's a brilliant little cat and mouse game, and a moral dilemma, and a final act that is as brilliant as just about anything I've ever seen on film.

And it was all brought home by the brilliant accompaniment of Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius. Because we finally found a film that required so much that Stephen Horne couldn't play all the instruments himself. He needed a master percussionist, too.
Policemen, being policemen, in POLICEMAN. Hey, it's late and I'm tired, okay? Still courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan
Man, it was a long, long day. But every minute of it was worth it.

Total Running Time: 549 minutes
My Total Minutes: 481,165

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