Monday, May 6, 2019

Jason goes to Silentfest: Day 4

Finally, I got the full experience, from 10 am to nearly 11 pm, with six shows and very little in the way of breaks.

But first, I just had to have my traditional breakfast at Orphan Andy's, a Castro institution. Fully fueled from that, I was ready for some movies!

THE LIGHTS OF OLD BROADWAY (1925): We started it off with a showcase of Marion Davies. Two twin orphaned infants on a ship to America. One is adopted by a wealthy family, heavily invested in gas. The other adopted by poor Irish immigrants, heavily invested in throwing bricks at the rich landlords trying to evict them from their slum. Each grows up according to her environment, and each is played by Marion Davies as an adult. Fely, the rambunctious poor Irish lass, is definitely the starring role, as she is discovered first by a theater manager who puts her on stage where she's a hit. And then by Dirk de Rhonde (Conrad Nagel), the son of a wealthy family...heavily invested in gas...who is smitten because...she reminds him of his adopted sister, Anne? Okay, that's kind of creepy. Their romance challenges his family loyalty, as his father is trying to evict her family from their slum, and her father beaned his father with a brick. Only one thing can save them--an all out fight and the advent of electric lights, which brilliantly turn everything from black and white to color, and change fortunes overnight. Excellent fun, a great way to start a long day of movies.

And moving it all along was the excellent accompaniment by Philip Carli on the grand piano.
Marion Davies, stealing the show
BROWNIE'S LITTLE VENUS (1921): The next show started with this adorable Baby Peggy short. Let's see what I wrote about it back in 2012:
One of Baby Peggy's earliest co-stars was Brownie the dog, and with her rediscovery he's getting a renewed career, too (although he has to appreciate it from doggie heaven.) As adorable as Baby Peggy is, Brownie's really the star here, helping her get dressed (even tightening her corset) for a big day, then helping her foil a robbery.
Okay, I'd add to that he's not just Brownie the dog, he's Brownie the Wonder Dog! And I'd be remiss not to give credit also to Peggy's parents, Bud Jamison and Lillian Biron.

HELL BENT (1918): Then it was time for a John Ford / Harry Carey collaboration, a team who took westerns to new heights of popularity. Carey practically perfected the iconic character of the "good bad man" that had been previously explored by William S. Hart and of course Niles' own Broncho Billy Anderson. Here he plays a card sharp with a heart of gold. He befriends Cimmaron Bill (Duke Lee) in typical cowboy fashion--by getting into an all-out brawl with him that ends with them singing. He also falls for Bess Thurston (Neva Gerber), who works in a dance hall because her lazy, good-for-nothing brother Jack (Vester Pegg) is...lazy and good for nothing. Jack ends up joining a gang led by Beau Ross (Joseph Harris) so Harry has to do the right thing and foil their robbery and save Bess. Full of rousing action, good humor, tension, and sweeping John Ford vistas. Good fun.

Philip Carli again provided the accompaniment, and was excellent.
Harry Carey, at his Harry Carey-est

GOONA GOONA (1931): Then it was time for a trip to Bali for this amazing cultural artifact. Shot on location, and framed as a story told to an anthropologist, a Balinese legend is brought to life by Balinese locals. A prince comes home from studying in Europe, and brings with him dangerous European ideals. Like, it's okay to marry outside your caste, or to marry for love, or when that doesn't work out, just go ahead and have an affair with your servant's wife. Okay, these ideas don't exactly work out well, but it's an engaging story well told, with plenty of local flavor and traditional dress...meaning the women are often topless.

I know, we westerners have an obsession with tits, sorry, that's the culture I grew up in. And it's not just me. The title (which is supposed to be a sort of love potion powder) ended up becoming a generic term for southeast and far east Asian exploitation flicks, particularly one in which the women are topless...for ethnographic authenticity, a la National Geographic. I guess that's Bali for you.

But let's not obsess over that, instead obsess over the amazing score by Club Foot Gamelan, the combination of Club Foot Orchestra and Gamelan Sekar Jaya.
An authentic (as far as I know) Balinese ceremony.

L'HOMME DU LARGE (MAN OF THE OPEN SEAS) (1920): Then it was time for some high melodrama of the sea, based on a story by Balzac. We begin with Nolff (Roger Karl), a fisherman taking a vow of silence for the rest of his life. We then flash backwards to what led up to his sorry state. A loving wife, a young daughter, and a newborn son. He lets his wife raise the daughter, and he raises the son with a plan for him to love the sea. But that doesn't go as planned, and the grown-up son is a ne'er-do-well who hates the sea to spite his father. He loves the village...the excitement there...although he has run up some debts. This ruins the family, and through tragedy upon tragedy leads to Nolff's vow that opens the film. Beautifully shot and acted, it's high melodrama at its highest, and a bit of a tribute to the power and beauty of the see, particularly on the Brittany coast.

Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius provide the excellent score, and instead of obscuring the beautifully crafted French intertitles, translations were narrated live by actor Paul McGann

THE WEDDING MARCH (1928): Melodrama was the order of the day, and what could be more melodramatic than Erich von Stroheim directing and starring is a romance. Opposite both Fay Wray (in her first featured role) and Zasu Pitts, no less. Stroheim plays Nicki, a prince of Vienna whose full name is a kilometer long, who gives up his skirt-chasing ways as soon as he lays eyes on Mitzi (Fay Wray.) Trouble is, the royal family needs money, and she is a commoner. His parents want him to marry into money, and that would be Cecilia (Zasu Pitts), the limping daughter of a local tycoon of corn plasters. But Nicki wants Mitzi, even if that raises the hackles of local butcher (and ironically, a pig) Schani. Raises them to possibly murderous levels. It's again high, high melodrama, and with an ending that's...well, that's a Stroheim kind of ending (hint: not happy.)

The whole affair was beautifully accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Fay Wray and Erich von Stroheim, in love.

L'INFERNO (1911): And finally the long, long day ended with this lavish Italian interpretation of Dante's Inferno. It's been about a decade since I read it, but from what I remember it's a fairly faithful adaptation. Virgil, at the behest of Beatrice, leads Dante through the 9 levels of hell. The visuals are lavish and actually pretty creepy. Like many early movies it suffers from a very staged, static style, which makes it a pretty long slog even at just 66 minutes. Or maybe that was just my exhaustion. Anyway, great special effects (especially with the guy condemned to carry his own severed head around) but they were still figuring out pacing. But at least the visuals were beautifully gruesome and macabre. Oh, and most of the tortured souls are nearly naked in hell. But I guess that's Italy for you.

And for the macabre and weird, of course the Matti Bye Ensemble needed to provide the accompaniment, with Paul McGann again providing narration for the intertitles.
There's a lot of nudity in Hell, but not the kind you want to see. Kind of like Burning Man.
Total Running Time: 470 minutes
My Total Minutes: 504,876


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