Sunday, May 5, 2019

Jason goes to Silentfest: Day 2

I worked my day job so missed the matinee shows on Thursday, but I was there for two evening shows, and they were both amazing.

THE SIGNAL TOWER (1924): This train picture climaxes with one of the most tense and thrilling scenes I've ever seen. But first, we meet Dave (Rockcliffe Fellowes) who runs the signal tower remote in the Mendocino Mountains. He has an important job, making sure the tracks are cleared so the trains can get through. He lives there was his wife Sally (the beautiful Virginia Valli), their son (Frankie Darro), and his aging colleague and friend, Old Bill (James Barrows.) But the railroad has pensioned Bill and sent him into retirement with a vacation in New York. So a new night shift signal man comes in, Joe, played by Wallace Beery at his oiliest. Dave and Sally could use rent money, so the bring him into their home. And at first it looks like there might be a romance between him and cousin Gertie (Dot Farley.) But he has his eyes on Sally, instead. It gets super creepy, and then super dangerous when a train breaks on a stormy night and the back half starts barreling down the track and must be derailed before it crashes into the Express. That's the super-tense scene I alluded to in the beginning. It all plays out with the dual tension of the train and Joe's assault on Sally, but there's also plenty of room for humor and well-fleshed out characters.

Keeping things alternately tense and humorous was the charging score of Stephen Horne on piano and Frank Bockius on percussion.
Virginia Valli doing her best to resist Wallace Beery


OPIUM (1919): And then the late show was a trip as hallucinatory as the title would suggest. Directed by Robert Reinert, it's the story of Dr Gesellius (Eduard von Winterstein), who has studied the terrible effects of opium and set up a sanitarium to treat addicts. But he himself falls under its spell, and the whole movie takes a wild turn. It's a sprawling tale, from China to England to India, and the costumes and makeup reflect the unfortunate racism of the time (the scheming Chinese opium dealer shows up repeatedly to torment the good doctor.) But there's a very full story (I was surprised to look back at the notes and see it's only 91 minutes long) and takes you on a trip around the world and through the mind of a hallucinating opium fiend (including more topless scenes than you usually see in a movie of that time, but I guess that's Germany for you.)

And Guenter Buchwald's amazing score kept the hallucinations flowing freely.
Dr Gesellius feeling guilty about his patient, since he kind of caused his injury


Total Running Time: 175 minutes
My Total Minutes: 504,235

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