San Francisco

Remembering Robert Osborne

Beth Ann Gallagher, Karie Bible, Annie Coulter, and Deborah Rush with Robert Osborne at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Late Monday morning I was crying. A quick look at Twitter let me know something I hoped wouldn’t happen yet had. TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne had died. He’d been on extended medical leave, so I knew he wasn’t well, that he must have been seriously ill to stay away from the network and the job that meant so much to him. He was the rare person who created his own career around what he loved, film. Since he was the even rarer public person who kept his personal life private, fans didn’t know more about his condition than that. I wished like many he’d rebound.

I’m not the sort of person who jumps on the celebrity mourning bandwagon. I don’t write about someone’s passing simply to get blog hits. When I feel the loss of someone like Robert, and I’m going to be presumptuous and call him by his first name since he’s been in my living room many times, I really feel it. Chief among his many gifts was being able to connect and engage with an audience. He made me feel like he was excited to share what he knew and thought about a film because he cared–and he truly did. He wanted to pass on the knowledge and the joy of classic film. Whether you met him in person or watched him on TV, he gave you a personal experience.

I was lucky enough to meet Robert at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2007. He was there to accept an award from the festival for TCM for its contributions “to the preservation, restoration and exhibition of silent film.” He, also, introduced CAMILLE (1921). I didn’t approach him when I saw him in the Castro Theatre‘s auditorium. I don’t think he would’ve minded, but I try to be considerate of famous people’s moments of downtime. My friends and I made sure to go up to the theatre’s mezzanine for his book signing, and that’s the first and last time I met him.

Some of us bought his book, and some didn’t, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. He was friendly and chatted with all of us, and he quickly and happily said yes to a group picture. While we started posing for the picture,  I wanted to let him know how much I appreciated him and his work. I don’t remember what I said to him, but whatever I said and how I said it, he paused for a moment and tilted his head, and then he responded with something nice back. I’m sorry to be vague, but I remember the quality of the moment and my emotions more than the words used by either of us.

Robert exemplified generosity. He was a consummate gentleman to all who approached him. He left people feeling good after they interacted with him. He wasn’t only an ambassador for TCM or classic film. He was someone who radiated happiness at his good fortune at being able to live the life he wanted, and he shared that happiness by making himself available until he wasn’t able to anymore.

Thank you, Robert, for giving more than you took, for being an educator and an inspiration, and for being you. You leave behind a rich legacy.

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Happy International Women’s Day 2016!

Anita Louise Autographed Picture

For International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to remember a woman of words, Anita Loos.

She started screenwriting in the silent era, and she’s credited for elevating the intertitle beyond the functional into an art form. A wordsmith, wit, and satirist, her intertitles had zing. Yes, they had “It.” It’s likely her exposure to the family tabloid and her own newspaper writing made her value succinctness. Would it be even more of a stretch to suppose that this early education schooled her in the art of equivocal, particularly innuendo? She could write a line explaining a scene and poking fun at a star’s persona. When describing yet another one of Douglas Fairbanks‘ characters designed to show off his athletic prowess, she wrote he had “a vaulting ambition which is likely to o’erleap itself and fall on the other side.” She was getting meta before that became a thing!

She had an aversion to societal hypocrisy and the pitfalls of her sex, threads that run through her work, like in this line from Intolerance (1916): “When women cease to attract men they often turn to Reform as a second choice.” Instead she had a fondness for hustlers, loose women, and other characters usually viewed as disreputable undesirables. Exposure to San Francisco’s Barbary Coast and piers, when accompanying her father on drunken wanderings and fishing trips, gave her a glimpse of those types at a young age, and she never lost her fascination for them, and they populate her work.

The most famous example is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes‘ Lorelei Lee, a ditzy, gold digging flapper. Loos wrote the comic novel as an act of revenge. She was tired of seeing her male intellectual friends (and crushes like H.L. Mencken) fall for women with more “downstairs” than upstairs. Despite Loos’ upset over the inspirational situation, there’s an admiration for Lorelei’s wiles and ambition. Loos was a hard worker, and so was her creation, who through her kooky logic and machinations ultimately wins.

Despite a disastrous love life that included marriage to a controlling, abusive, narcissistic, spendthrift schizophrenic, she kept working and didn’t turn to drink or idleness unlike other contemporaries. She survived film’s transition into sound writing more screenplays and expanded her oeuvre to include additional novels, (likely fictionalized, but so much fun to read) memoirs, Hollywood biographies, and Broadway.

She even became a script doctor. My favorite example of this was her being called in to work on a property other male writers, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, couldn’t get right. They couldn’t relate to the source material. Fitzgerald thought it “a spiteful portrayal of femininity.” Loos loved the Clare Boothe Luce play. Loos was very familiar with its subject matter, an exposé of the cattiness, gossip, men-stealing, and gold digging of Park Avenues socialites and the wannabees. She delighted in dishing on what occurs behind the scenes in women’s spaces. She turned out a script in three weeks that remains a classic beloved for its zingers to this day–The Women (1937).

When she died in August of 1981, her drive resulted in a body of work spanning about 65 years. She remained a celebrity. The gamine, 4’11’ girl with the pixie cut had aged into a grande dame of the New York social scene, active and vibrant close to her end. She frequented the party, fashion, and arts circuits. She enjoyed being among the surviving few of the silent era able to share what ever stories she remembered or fabricated. Film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow interviewed her for his television documentary series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980), and he must have had a fun time sorting fact from embellishment. “At the memorial service, friends Helen Hayes, Ruth Gordon, and Lillian Gish, regaled the mourners with humorous anecdotes and Jule Styne played songs from Loos’ musicals, including “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” The storyteller would live on in others’ tales and through her work.

Anita Loos Reading

References

Anita Loos.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Anita Loos.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Anita Loos.” Women Film Pioneers Project. Women Film Pioneers Project, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
Hutchinson, Pamela. “Anita Loos – Sharp, Shameless Humour of the ‘world’s Most Brilliant Woman‘” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
Somerville, Kris, and Speer Morgan. “Anita Loos: The Soubrette of Satire.” TMR Content Archives. The Missouri Review, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Why Be Good? (1929)

My San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview was interrupted due to being felled by a bug, but I want to mention a surefire hit of the fest screening today–Colleen Moore in Why Be Good? (1929).

Bodil Rosing & Colleen Moore in Why Be Good?

Bodil Rosing & Colleen Moore in Why Be Good? (1929)

Thanks to Ron Hutchinson and The Vitaphone Project, Colleen Moore returns to the festival in Why Be Good (1929)! Her Wild Oat Screened in 2008. Colleen may be eclipsed in current collective memory by another helmet bobbed honey Louise Brooks, but Colleen was the bigger star in her era. The loss of so many of her films, her lack of comparative screenings, a less dangerous, more girl next door sensuality than the troubled Louise, and those Pabst films helped history get revised to reflect contemporary popularity. Why Be Good? along with another new preservation effort, Synthetic Sin, will help Colleen get the attention and the acclaim she deserves today. Both films focus on the ideas of her being a good girl and what makes any woman good. They play around with Colleen’s good girl flapper comedienne image. Why Be Good? lays out how confusing being a modern maiden is for the woman and society. How game does she have to be to be considered fun and one of the gang before fellas, parents, and society misconstrue her character? There are plenty of gags, dancing, fashions, and Colleen to keep this upbeat. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompany this film.

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Part 2

SPEEDY (Paramount, 1928) Harold Lloyd, Ann Christie

Speedy (1928) Photo Courtesy of the Harold Lloyd Trust

Saturday morning’s program starts with the family-friendly Speedy (1928), and some parents likely will bring their tots for an outing to this screening. I love seeing kids getting their introduction to silents or enjoying a return trip to the festival. Comedies are a great gateway into silent film for all ages. In this slapstick feature, Harold Lloyd plays baseball obsessed Harold “Speedy” Swift, who can’t keep a job as well as he can keep up with his team. His being able to find a job every Monday after he’s lost one the previous week keeps dashing the marriage hopes of his honey, Jane Dillon (Ann Christy). While the younger generation discovers life’s tribulations anew, Speedy’s dad Pop Dillon (Bert Woodruff) moves more slowly. He’s the last horse-drawn streetcar driver in New York City, and a wheeler and dealer wants Pop’s track. Will big business push or buy him out? A son’s love for his father becomes an indefatigable force in a battle for a family’s future. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompanies the film.

Visages d'enfants Table Scene with Mother

Visages d’enfants (1925)

Visages d’enfants (1925), or Faces of Children, is another film that focuses on a family. It covers a theme that often appears at this festival–what makes a family. Son Jean Amsler (Jean Forest) is only a child, and he’s having a hard time coping with his mother’s passing. His father Pierre (Victor Vina) temporarily sends Jean away, and Pierre remarries during his son’s absence. Jean returns to a household changed once again. Not only does he get a Step-Mother (Jeanne Dutois played by Rachel Devirys), but also he gains a Step-Sister (Arlette portrayed by Arlette Peyran). He takes his resentment of Jeanne out on Arlette, and his actions escalate until they could cause a tragedy. Director Jacques Feyder‘s exploration of psychological family drama and childhood grief earned him critical acclaim, and it’s been called his best workStephen Horne accompanies the film.

Capra's The Donovan Affair (1929)

The Donovan Affair (1929)

Silent film purists might object to the The Donovan Affair (1929) being placed on the schedule. Technically it’s only a silent through circumstance. Director Frank Capra filmed the dark house mystery as a talkie. It was “his first ‘100% all-Dialogue Picture.’” “Its original soundtrack, recorded on transcription discs,” was lost. Ignore the pedants! The solutions to the challenges this screening presents are fun. Bruce Goldstein, director of programming at New York’s Film Forum, made it his mission to make screening the film possible. The original script was lost, but he found “half the dialogue in the archives of the now-defunct New York State Censorship Board.” He searched for actors with a feel for the era who could convincingly sound of it and become the voices of Capra’s onscreen cast. Goldstein’s actors became the Gower Gulch Players, and they helped him recreate the script further. They pieced together more of the movie’s dialogue through lipreading its actors. Pianist Steve Sterner created the film’s “new score.” This will be the troupe’s fourth public performance of The Donovan Affair. Frank Buxton is a guest performer.

Flesh and the Devil (1926)  Directed by Clarence Brown Shown: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert

Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Flesh and the Devil (1926) starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo likely will be a sold-out screening, so you should get the the Castro Theatre early for this film! A crowd will turn-out to see Garbo and Gilbert sizzle on the screen. Their character’s onscreen romance was paralleled by the actors’ offscreen one, and because Gilbert fell hard for his leading lady, he made sure she would shine in what was only her third American picture. Gilbert was the bigger, more established star of the two, and Irving Thalberg, “banked on his highest paid player to help define an unknown entity.” Gilbert’s help went much further than agreeing to stare with the mysterious new discovery and share equal billing. He was an experienced actor, and he was a screenwriter and an assistant director. While she had “It,” he had the knowledge of what worked in front of the camera. He asked for retakes of any scenes where Garbo could have shone better,  and he didn’t object to camera angles designed or requested to show off her beauty. Garbo was grateful for his help. “If he had not come into my life at this time, I should probably have come home to Sweden at once, my American career over.” While the behind-the-scenes history of the movie overshadows its conventional romantic melodramatic plot of a friendship torn apart by a woman’s love, its luminous stars and their multi-layered romances show the power silent film icons had to seem more than us watching them on the screen. They were bigger in size, the most beautiful, grander in lifestyle, fuller of feeling, and capable of great love.

From the silent film community’s murmurings after 2014’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pan (1922) will be the sleeper hit of the San Francisco festival. Descriptions of Knut Hamsun‘s book make it seem a straightforward tale. Two disparate strangers are pulled together by an “overwhelming attraction“. She is a wealthy, educated townswoman, and he is an ex-soldier turned hunter living in a forest with his dog. Despite their love, they don’t understand each other’s ways, and they seem fated not to be together. It’s the rendering of this story that makes it outstanding. Silent London wrote, “Lush, detailed photography, delicately tinted, with epigrammatic intertitles, and many a layer of mystery to uncover, this was a film of great beauty and unique oddity.” Pan was a success, but it was Harald Schwenzen‘s only directing credit. He’s like the debut novelist who retires after writing a masterpiece. See why the Film Noir Foundation said Pan “secured Schwenzen’s reputation in cinema history.” Guenter Buchwald accompanies the film.

There it is (1928), a Charley Bowers Silent Comedy

There It Is (1928)

More all ages comedy kicks off Sunday’s screenings! There’s an entire program devoted to the shorts of The Amazing Charley Bowers.  He was almost forgotten in his home country the United States until “Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films revived his oeuvre in 2010.” The shorts he restored are thought to be a portion of Bowers’ existing work. More may exist in archives. What a shame it would be for Bowers’ works to be lost by lack of interest! His films are surrealistic slapstick outings mixing live action with animation and often featuring “complex Rube Goldberg gadgets.” The best comedians make us look at the world or life in a new way while we laugh, and Bowers had that talent and a singular vision. Who else would make a film starring a kilt mad laddie investigating a mystery with a cockroach detective also clad in a kilt? No wonder Bowers was beloved by André Breton and the Surrealists. Featured shorts include A Wild Roomer (1926, 24 minutes), Now You Tell One (1926, 22 minutes), Many a Slip (1927, 12 minutes), and There It Is (1928, 17 minutes). Serge Bromberg accompanies the films.

Ménilmontant directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926

Ménilmontant (1926)

Avant-Garde Paris showcases two films from 1920s Paris that illustrate the creative experimentation of the city, making it a beacon for artists.

Emak-Bakia (1927, 16 minutes) is a cinépoème by visual artist Man Ray. The title is “Basque for Leave me alone.How that relates to the film is up to individual interpretation. After the title and credits, the first image seen is a man with his camera with human eye on its side, so everything that follows could be a film dreamed up by a crazed cinematographer. Light, image, double exposure, speed, rhythm, angle, extreme close-ups, and a sometimes unsteady camera are played with. Images range from the abstract to the identifiable. Fans of vintage personalities should know Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin) makes an appearance. Earplay accompanies the film with a score created by Nicolas Tzortzis.

Ménilmontant (1926, 44 minutes) may look more conventional in comparison to Emak-Bakia, since the former film is a narrative, but Ménilmontant’s director Dimitri Kirsanoff experimented with techniques and images in telling a comprehendible story, and he didn’t use intertitles. His leads (Nadia Sibirskaïa and Yolande Beaulieu) portray two sisters. When the film starts, they look like innocent D.W. Griffith heroines. The girls are wearing big bows, running about, and playing with each other and their cats. An axe murderer kills their parents, and their lives are disrupted. When we next see them, they’re chaperoneless young women of the flapper era, and their bond is threatened by a man with no intent of joining the family.  Stephen Horne accompanies the film.

My San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview continues with Part 3 tomorrow. If you missed Part 1 of my preview, you can read it here.

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Part 1

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is almost here! Its first film fills the Castro Theatre’s screen on Thursday night. We’ll rewind our scene to before its audience sits, before they pile into the picture palace, before they stand in a line snaking down Castro and stretching around the corner down 17th, and stop where they chat with anticipation about the experience that awaits them with their friends. Let’s take a look at the films selected to celebrate the festival’s twentieth anniversary.

All Quiet on the Western Front Field Juxtopostion

It’s incorrect to say the festival eases into its first screening with only one feature. A centerpiece film always kicks off the event in grand style. This year it’s the silent version of war film All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), directed by Lewis Milestone. There were actually two versions of the film made simultaneously, a sound version for English-speaking audiences and an “International Sound Version,” essentially a silent with a later added score and intertitles, written for foreign language markets. While the talkie version was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two, festival Artistic Director Anita Monga says, “Many people consider it to be superior to the sound version.” The epic devastatingly details what happens to a group of young German boys recruited to the trenches of World War I. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompany the film.

An off-site opening night party follows the movie. The McRoskey Mattress Company‘s top-floor loft turns into the Kit Kat Club, a 1920s Berlin cabaret hosted by Swedish chanteuse Clara Gustavsson. Also performing are the Craig Ventresco Trio, featuring Meredith Axelrod. Fine food and drink are part of the festivities. Your party ticket gets you nibbles from Poesia Osteria Italiana, wine from Barefoot Wine and Bubbly, beer from Sierra Nevada, and a special cocktail—the Voluptuous Panic—created by Bartavelle‘s Suzanne Drexhage. Vintage attire and dancing are encouraged! Something called the Naughty Boudoir Photo Booth makes a first appearance. Whether you enter the booth before or after imbibing is up to you!

2014 Amazing Tales From the Aarchives Bryony Presentation

Photo by Pamela Gentile from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Site

If you attend the party, keep in mind that Day 2 of the fest begins bright and early at 10 AM with Amazing Tales from the Archives! If you miss this educational session, your hardcore silent film fan friends will brag about all the interesting facts they learned and rare films they saw. The ever entertaining Serge Bromberg, of Lobster Films, recounts finding Maurice Tourneur’s 1914 short Figures de Cire (House of Wax). Bryony Dixon brings a treasure trove of footage about the RMS Lusitania to mark the centennial of its sinking, and crowd favorite actor Paul McGann adds narration to her films. Festival President Robert Byrne describes the meticulous process of reconstructing and restoring William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes. In recognition of another centennial, this time Technicolor‘s, Movette Film Transfer‘s Jennifer Miko screens a home movie shot at Hearst Castle and starring its architect Julia Morgan and W.R. HearstDonald Sosin accompanies this program.

Cave of the Spider Women

I’m excited this year’s Chinese selection deviates from past offerings. While the suffering women dramas previously screened, often starring Ruan Lingyu, were excellent, Cave of the Spider Women or Pan si dong (1927) offers something new to the program. It is a magic-spirit film, a genre popular in 1920s Shanghai, but quite rare to screen today due to so much of early Chinese film being lost. A nitrate 35mm print of the movie was discovered in the National Library of Norway‘s archives. This is not an unusual occurrence. Staffing and funding limitations mean that films listed as lost might lay in other archives undocumented and awaiting discovery and thus restoration before they deteriorate too badly to be saved. In the film. a monk and his followers—a monkey, pig, and shark spirit–search for Buddhist texts while facing dangers like the seductive Spider Queen and her handmaidens. Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius accompany the film.

When the Earth Trembled Poster

Poster Image Courtesy of EYE Filmmuseum, Desmet Collection

When the Earth Trembled (1913) fills the local interest slot. If you’re guessing by the title that it’s about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, then you are correct! The movie may be the first fictional one made about the disaster, and it incorporates real newsreel footage shot in the earthquake’s aftermath. That’s of special note since the Lubin Manufacturing Company later lost the majority of its newsreel footage in a vault fire, so contained within this disaster epic is a chance to see true life scenes that otherwise would have been destroyed. Director Barry O’Neil‘s insistence on realistic recreations adds to the sense of danger. His leading lady Ethel Clayton almost died when a chandelier fell on her during an earthquake scene. Due to his attention to detail and film mogul Siegmund Lubin devoting four months to making the movie, when normally his studio cranked out two pictures a week, they produced a mega-spectacle that’s sure to thrill today. Multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne accompanies the film.

F.W. Murnau Der letzte Mann 1924 Grooming Scene

Film critic Paul Rotha described The Last Laugh (1924), or Der letzte Mann, as “cine-fiction in its purest form.” Director F.W. Murnau‘s technique was revolutionary. He created a drama focused on an ordinary man’s fall using few intertitles, a fluid camera, and the best of Emil Jannings‘ acting ability. Jannings’ character, a hotel doorman, takes pride in the fine uniform his job provides him. The uniform brings him respect and gives him greater status in his workingclass neighborhood. When his job and uniform are taken away from him, his identity and position are the greater losses compared to the income. The perilousness of work instability and its impact on self-worth and class and social status can resonate for today’s audiences experienced in recession. Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, in its inaugural appearance accompanies the film.

Ghost Train 1927 Still

Image Courtesy of the British Film Institute

The Ghost Train (1927) is the first film adaptation of the popular stage play by Arnold Ridley. It blends horror and comedy elements in depicting what happens when strangers are stranded at a supposedly haunted train station. I’ve seen the 1941 version starring Arthur Askey, which emphasized comedy over the supernatural, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Hungarian director Géza von Bolváry was freer to play up the story’s spookier and darker aspects. After American horror hits Dracula and Frankenstein upset some vocal members of the public, the British Board of Film Censors created the H(orror) certificate as an advisement in 1932, but in reality that resulted in children under 16 being banned from cinemas showing films labeled such. British filmmakers avoided getting the certificate by avoiding the horror genre. Online clips from the silent version show clever uses of animation and superimposition. Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius accompany the film, and Paul McGann provides narration.

This concludes Part 1 of my San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview. Part 2 follows tomorrow!

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Official Press Accreditation

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Poster 2015

Saturday’s post was the start of my San Francisco Silent Film Festival coverage. I’m happy to announce Spellbound by Movies has received official press accreditation to the festival! In the coming days, look to this blog for an in-depth preview to the festival, an interview or two, and onsite write-ups. I’ll be live-tweeting the event here as well.

If you’re attending the event, please comment and let me know! If you cannot attend, I hope my posts will give you a sense of what the festival and this years’ films are like.

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Supporting the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Membership Card

As part of my preparation for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I renewed my membership to it. As a film fanatic with a particular passion for silents, I recognize that many of the specialty screenings I frequent only occur because of the efforts of non-profit groups. Attending their events and buying tickets or passes are two ways to help.  There’s nothing more emotionally rewarding for organizers than to get their audience into seats. Every sold-out screening I’ve attended has been proudly announced as such.

While paid attendance must help defray programming costs, there are expenses to running their organizations year-round. That’s why they fundraise and apply for cultural grants, and that’s I renewed my basic membership. Besides providing coverage to the festival, I wanted to give back to them financially even if it’s in a small way.

For my donation, I got this swell membership card featuring Louise Brooks, mention in their collectible festival book, advance access to purchase passes and tickets, discounted attendance, and reciprocal discounts at other cultural institutions. I, also, got the satisfaction of giving back to a place that has given so much to me.

If you love the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, too, consider becoming a member if you’re not. If you’re a reader who lives more distantly, I heartily encourage you to support your local groups and screenings!

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Fairy Tale Blogathon: Claire (2001)

Claire_toniet_on_moon_press

Contemporary silent film Claire frames a story of longings once impossible inside a loose adaptation of a Japanese fairy tale. The movie quietly champions the themes of acceptance, fatherhood, and families of choice. The methods used to depict this tale are strictly early twentieth century, and the images they make are a dream-like mix of the quotidian and the mystical. All create a sense of the magic of love.

Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

Claire was inspired by Princess Kaguya, also known as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. In the fairy tale, Princess Kaguya is a changeling child. She’s discovered inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an elderly bamboo cutter wandering the forest. She’s no bigger than his thumb. He brings her home, and since he and his wife are childless, they raise the girl. They begin receiving compensation for the care they’d gladly give for free. Every time he cuts down a bamboo stock, he finds a nugget of gold.

Princess Kaguya

Kaguya grows into a great beauty of normal human size. Despite her parents sheltering her, word of her beauty spreads, and she’s wooed by royalty, who want to marry her and take her away. She refuses by assigning them impossible tasks. She only feels the moon’s pull. While she loves her earthly parents, she cries to be separated from the moon. The tension comes from not knowing how and when she will leave her parents. Changeling children never stay. Will romance or the moon finally take her away from the couple?

Claire Interrupted Birthday Party

Filmmaker Milford Thomas sets his version of this story on an Appalachian farm in the 1920s south. The movie starts with a child’s birthday party. A little girl is surrounded by friends and presents while her proud poppa, Josh (Mish P. DeLight) looks on. Suddenly the party is interrupted by a woman and man glaring reprobation. They take the girl away. Josh wakes up from his nightmare, arms flailing about, in bed. His partner lying next to him, Walt (James Ferguson), takes Josh’s hand, which calms him. We’re next shown scenes of their domesticity as they work their corn farm and live the settled, peaceful life of two elderly people who have been together a very long time.

Claire Josh & Walt Finding Surprise in Barn

Josh’s dream shows us the one thing he wants is a child, and his wish is fulfilled one night. He and Walt are startled awake by their animals making noise. When they look out their window to find out what the hullabaloo is about, they see their barn is filled with light. They find a glowing ear of corn inside. While they watch, the husk parts to reveal a glowing miniature, but perfectly proportioned girl (Toniet Gallego). She looks up at them with curiosity and hopefulness. They swaddle her like a baby and bring her into their home. They’re startled awake a third time when furniture gets knocked about. The tiny girl grew into a full-sized one overnight! The couple name her Claire.

Claire Doll Family

Josh and Walt finally have a child to raise and spoil. They throw her a birthday party. They make a cake out of cornmeal. They wrap her present in dried corn husks. Her gift is revealed to be a miniature of their home made out of matchsticks and corn kernels. Inside the house are figurines of each family member. The scene is touching and foreshadowing. Even non-magical girls don’t stay home forever. The local school teacher, Miss Earwood (Anna May Hirsch), wants to send bright Claire away to France to study. Her pupil Richard (Allen Jeffrey Rein) attempts to court Claire, who’s confused about what she wants. She wants to stay with her fathers, but she can’t fight the pull of the moon. She climbs up onto the window sill at night to stare at the moon and cry longingly.

Claire Crying in the MoonlightThomas sets his movie in the past, but the subject of gay fatherhood and adoption remains topical, even though it is more common and acceptable today, yet his film isn’t polemical. In depicting one couple raising one girl, he shows us the love and wonder any father would feel doubled by two. Within the film’s more conservative time period, it’s only the nightmare child snatchers that show disapproval. Whether the townspeople understand Walt and Josh are a couple isn’t made clear, but their neighbors don’t question the men’s ability or motives in raising a girl. That’s not a plot point. Their daughter Claire accepts and loves them for who they are.

Moon Princess Claire

Her fathers must accept her for who she is. Every parent reaches the point when he or she must let a child grow up into her own person. Claire has feelings that she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know what makes her want to leave her earthly home for the moon. It’s painful and confusing for any child to individuate. The story of the changeling who stays a short time with her foster parents mimics the cycle of the adolescent becoming an adult. Within Claire’s magical story is a second universal one.

Claire Camera 2

Thomas’s visuals aren’t as slick as the ones of The Artist or Blancanieves. He employs no expensive digital arts, and his sets are modest. He did not have the same resources as Michel Hazanavicius or Pablo Berger. He gave himself two challenges to make Claire. He had to do it on a limited budget, and he had to do it using vintage equipment.

Claire Water Nymphs

What’s shown onscreen looks like early vintage filmmaking, and I mean that in the best possible way. He used a Mitchell Standard handcrank camera, the “same type of camera used by cinematographer Charles Rosher to film Mary Pickford in the 1922 Tess of the Storm Country.” Milford overexposed modern monochrome film stocks to get contemporary film to look vintage. He used multiple, in camera exposures to make his special effects. Only an underwater scene was shot on a modern camera. His stylistic influences include Georges MélièsF.W. Murnau, and D. W. Griffith. Few intertitles are employed, save for a scene where Claire reads a poem by Shelley.

Claire Orchestra de Lune

The movie’s soundtrack was recorded live in 2002 at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. It was performed by the Orchestra de Lune, directed by composer Anne Richardson. Her score was influenced by “Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Aaron Copland.” In writing the score, Richardson said, “The images on the screen often spoke to me, as if the music were already there, waiting to be put down on paper.” Her score is dreamy, emotional, and intimate. The audience’s audible responses are affecting. Their laughs, hisses, and applause gave this home viewer the sensation of watching Claire in a theatre with an audience. How long the hearty applause at film’s end goes on will give anyone the impression of how much some fairy tales are needed.

This post is part of the Fairy Tale Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Check out its other posts on silent, classic, and modern films, both live action and animated!

Fairy Tale Blogathon Banner Forbidden Fruit

 

Sources:

1. “Groundbreaking Film ‘Claire’ Celebrates a Radical Fairy-tale.” GAVoice. GAVoice, 2 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

2. “Moving Picture Claire.” Moving Picture Claire. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

3. Hildreth, Richard. “Claire, 2001.Home. San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 2003. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

4. Phillips Jordan, Julie. “Atlanta Filmmaker’s ‘Claire’ Pays Homage to Silent Cinema.” Athens Banner-Herald. Athens Banner-Herald, 18 Apr. 2002. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

 

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More San Francisco Silent Film Festival Fun!

William Gillette in Sherlock Holmes 3

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has gotten a little longer for its 20th anniversary. A day has been added to the festival! The event now runs Thursday, May 28, 2015 through Monday, June 1, 2015. Past years, programming ended on the Sunday evening. This is great news for attendees. An extra day of films means–more films to be enjoyed. Out-of-town film fanatics should commence in changing their return flights and/or extending lodging stays as soon as possible in order not to miss any of the fun.

With the expanded schedule, I’d like to see the festival stick with the more reasonable break schedule employed during Silent Autumn 2014. There was time to walk around, socialize, and even go to a Castro District restaurant for a sit-down meal. Anyone who’s attended a film festival knows how long-term sitting is brutal on the body. Limb cramps and fatigue aren’t fun, and they’re distracting from what’s on the screen. Plus, there’s no greater advertisement to the event’s sponsors than attendees out on break patronizing area businesses while wearing festival lanyards. That affirms donating to the festival is worthwhile for local business owners. They can see immediate results.

The additional day does mean festival passes are going up in costs. The good news is they’re being discounted until the first of the new year. As of today, passes cost $231 for the general public and $201 for festival members. There is an online processing fee on top of those charges. While the pass costs might look steep to some, buying a pass makes the average cost per program lower if you plan to attend all or most programs. If you’re cherry-picking films, then buying individual tickets will work best for you.

So far only William Gillette‘s long-thought lost silent film Sherlock Holmes has been announced. The complete schedule will be released in the middle of March 2015. Watch this blog for further festival updates!
San Francisco Silent Film Festival Logo

 

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SF Silent Film Festival Press Accreditation

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Logo

Spellbound by Movies has received official press accreditation by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival! I am excited to be given this opportunity to bring you fuller coverage of its offerings. Check this blog starting next week for updates on the festival and reviews of its films. When I can, I will live-tweet in-between films here.

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