Monday, July 17, 2006
The11th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival Round Up
Marquee of The Castro Theater: Home of the 11th Annual Silent Film Festival
What a fantastic event! I have to say this is the best film festival I've ever attended. First, the programming was incredible. The films selected covered a wide range of style, genre, stars and periods. The programming started with the transcendent romance of Seventh Heaven and ended with the good natured but biting satire of Show People and in between included the following genres: western, social drama, gothic adventure, erotic drama, slapstick, Soviet comedy and The Unholy Three which defies an easy genre name- carnival crime caper I guess. Plus each film was in itself an entertaining and well made movie. Even the film I found the weakest, Au Bonheur Des Dames I was still glad to watch in a theater a second time. (It also screened at this year's SIFF.) I enjoyed seeing the same film with a completely different accompaniment.
The breadth of styles in accompaniment also added to the charm of the festival. Each film had a unique and appropriate score provided by different soloist and groups. I especially enjoyed Mike Mortilla's piano accompaniments to Bucking Broadway, Sparrows and the Laurel and Hardy shorts. Another stand out for me was The Balka Ensemble's accompaniment of The Girl with the Hatbox. Having a score played on traditional Russian instruments was perfect for the Soviet comedy. I also appreciated the conductor's explanation of the history of the Balka prior to screening the film.
Another aspect of the festival that I liked was the speakers and guest interviews before and after the films. Three stood out for me: festival patron and board member Frank Buxton comments on Laurel and Hardy, Christel Schmidt from the Library of Congress, and Harry Carey, Jr. My original impetus for coming to the festival was for the screening of John Ford's Bucking Broadway. Then I found out that Harry Carrey, Jr. would be there in person. He was the son of the two stars and a member of John Ford's stock company. I was not disappointed: the film was great and Mr. Carrey told some great Ford stories and signed copies of his excellent memoir: Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in The John Ford Stock Company.
The speakers were part of an overall imparting of film knowledge to the audience that included slide shows before each film and excellent essays on each film included in the program. The slide shows featured stills with captions relating to each film and informational slides including interesting facts about the films and their stars. Not only did it give you something to do while waiting for the film to start, but it enhanced your viewing of the film.
What this all boils down to is people make this festival great. The programmers' passion and ability to pick great films to share with their festival goers. The benefactors and sponsors willing to put money and time into mounting the festival. The guests and speakers willing to attend and impart their knowledge and reminiscences about these great films. A courteous and helpful staff of volunteers making each day of attendance a pleasure. And a theater full of passionate movie goers. I would love to see a festival like this in Seattle. For more information on the festival please go to: http://www.silentfilm.org/home.htm