SFSFF

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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Coming Back from Hiatus!

Ever Felt Watched

I confess I took an unannounced hiatus from Spellbound by Movies. That doesn’t mean I’ve not been indulging in my movie love. I had an overwhelmingly good time at the twentieth San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and I flew out to New York state for my second Capitolfest, which remains a favorite. I’ll be blogging about both events belatedly here, so don’t worry about missing out on my observations of either. My pre-coverage of the fests here and/or on Twitter was only the start. I’ve been watching a lot of movies, reading about them, listening to some great movie podcasts, and even taking Hitchcock-inspired selfies, like the above. I’ve joined some upcoming blogathons. That means I have a lot to share with you. Watch this writer and blog become more active again!

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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 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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The Little Tramp at 100, Part 1

Little Tramp at 100 A

Last month, The San Francisco Silent Film Festival joined a worldwide celebration of Charlie Chaplin with The Little Tramp at 100. Three programs celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the Little Tramp persona’s first film appearance.

The first screening featured Charlie’s work from his third studio, Mutual Film Corporation. Someone at the fest wittily titled this program Our Mutual Friend. It featured three shorts accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on solo piano. The shorts were The Vagabond (1916), The Cure (1917), and Easy Street (1917).

The Vagabond Poster

The Vagabond features the Little Tramp’s characteristic blend of comedy and drama. He’s a wandering violinist trying to earn his living busking. He settles on a saloon as a prime place to play only to be displaced by a much louder band. If his violin is going to be drowned out, he decides to “join” the band, collecting their tips for himself! Eventually his trickery is discovered, and he’s forced to flee those he fleeced, which sets him upon the path where he finds Edna Purviance‘s Gypsy Drudge.

Image Source: Discovering Chaplin

Her story is Dickensian. She was born to a wealthy family, but abducted by gypsies and forced into slavery. A chance meeting with the Little Tramp changes her life. He mistakes her for a paying audience, but while she loves his music, she has no money to give him. He ends up rescuing her from her captors, and their newly shared life is hardscrabble, but happy until a chance encounter with an artist threatens their relationship.

The Vagabond Cleaning Scene

The Tramp starts to take care of the Drudge, as he makes her more presentable to the world in his eyes. He cleans her face removing any dirt of the past, and he vigorously scrubs out every facial orifice, earholes and nostrils included! For maximum comedic effect, Edna the actress makes herself look as silly and awkward as possible, as she grimaces exaggeratedly during the Drudge’s cleaning. In her next scene with the Tramp, he’s “fixes” her hair. Her new hairstyle may be less wild, but it’s no more fashionable. The intimate physicality of these scenes shows the trust built between the characters, and it mirrors Edna’s offscreen trust in Charlie’s comedic instincts.

The Vagabond Eric Campbell

Eric Campbell, a former stage actor, was part of Charlie’s film troupe at this time. The role isn’t the most developed villain he played in Charlie’s films, but he uses his bulk to make the Gypsy Chieftain menacing, while finding the funny in the brute. The imposing Chieftain’s movements are comically floundering as he’s outwitted by Charlie’s tiny violinist.

The Cure Poster

The Cure spoofs the mineral water craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Spas or resorts used to be built around wells and springs spouting what was lauded as medicinal waters. They were reputed to do everything from improving libido to curing insanity. Though Charlie’s character The Inebriate goes to such a health spa to dry out with the wet cure, he arrives packing more liquor than some bars. He causes chaos everywhere he goes, especially when fleeing his treatments.

The Cure Chaplin & Purviance

The film features the comedy trio of Charlie, Edna, and Eric Campbell. The drunkard may have drink on the mind, but he’s not so distracted that he can’t find time to romance Edna’s The Girl. He has to work hard to impress her. Campbell’s The Man with Gout complicates their romance. The Inebriate accidentally keeps getting into scuffles with The Man, and The Man continually pesters The Girl. He follows her about, tries to sit near her, and tries to touch her. He’s much too forward.

The Cure's Inebriate vs the Masseur

Charlie’s outfits in this film aren’t the Little Tramp ones we’re used to. His resort clothes and the fact he can afford a rest stay show he’s portraying a much posher character. Later there are scenes of him resisting rough massages while attired in bathing gear. Seeing him stripped down, I could see how young he was by his skinniness, yet he possessed a trim muscularity that enabled his slapstick acrobatics. When The Inebriate starts dancing away from the feared Masseur, the bathing suit emphasizes his graceful control of limbs and movements.

The Cure Revolving Door Trap

There are no sad or dark moments in this film. It’s pure slapstick and satire. When The Inebriate attempts to enter the resort though its revolving door, Charlie signals we’re in for silliness. He spins round and round, popping in and out of the building, and soon traps The Man with Gout and an attendant in the door. The Inebriate finally ends up inside the building, still spinning his way through the lobby, up the stairs, and to his room. Those familiar with slapstick conventions might guess the giggle water he smuggles in will end up in the well, a situation that promises a film that will leave viewers drunk with good humor.

Easy Street Poster

Easy Street starts off with a darker world view. Charlie is back in his familiar tramp costume at the film’s beginning. His character, The Derelict, is so badly off he almost robs a rescue mission. Edna portrays a mission worker. Her kindness to him and his attraction to her inspires him to reform. He seeks work and gets hired as a policeman assigned an awful called slum Easy Street.

Easy Street Brawl

Our first view of Easy Street shows Eric Campbell’s The Bully brawling with the borough’s other crooks in the street. The living is not easy there, but if you’ve got brawn or guile, it’s easy to get away with whatever you want. It’s an anything goes place. We see that when two men are revealed on the ground at the center of the crowd. They’re getting mugged by the brawlers, who are fighting each over the pickings from their victims’ pockets.

Easy Street Lamp Scene

One of Chaplin’s chief conceits is coming up with imaginative ways for the little Derelict to defeat bigger and oftener brawnier bad guys. For example, being struck in the head with a police baton doesn’t phase The Bully. His thick skull protects him. He demonstrates his superior strength by bending a streetlight. The Tramp seems outmatched, but he gets a bright idea on how to use that gas lamp against his foe. The moment is hilariously surreal.

Easy Street Chaplin & Charlotte Mineau

The film gets darker when we meet more of the slum’s denizens. A sweet couple has too many children to feed, so Edna brings aid with assistance from Charlie. Charlie lightens the scene by feeding the babes like they’re a flock of chickens. In another apartment, there’s domestic violence. The Bully fights with his woman, and she pays him back in kind. Later Edna is threatened with rape by a heroin addict.

Easy Street Resolved

Since this is a comedy, it’s no spoiler to reveal that in the end Charlie makes life on easy street a little easier. How he does it brings laughs and it brings reassurance that the little guy can prevail and order can be restored.

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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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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview

In one week, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off with a return of everyone’s favorite former showgirl, Louise Brooks. She stars in the recently restored Prix de Beauté. Thirteen other feature-length films follow as do two programs of shorts. Amazing Tales from the Archives returns to highlight film preservation. Since silent film crossed international boundaries easily, so do the festival’s featured movies and musicians. The major programs represent the creative production of nine countries, and as there are always shorts before each feature, the count may go up by the festival’s end.

All screenings occur in the Castro Theatre. Details from the program follow below!

Louise Brooks in Prix de Beauté

Thursday, July 18 at 7:00 PM
Prix de Beauté (France, 1930)
Musical Accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Augusto Genina
Cast: Louise Brooks, Georges Charlia, H. Bandini, A. Nicolle, M. Ziboulsky, Yves Glad, Alex Bernard

“Prix de Beauté marks Louise Brooks’s last starring role in a feature. Less known than her work with G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl), Prix de Beauté was marred by its foray into early sound (Brooks’s voice was dubbed). Our presentation is the superior silent version recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna. Brooks is stunning as Lucienne, the ‘everygirl’ typist who enters a beauty contest and is introduced to a shiny world of fame and modernity. But Prix’s script, a collaboration between René Clair and G.W. Pabst, doesn’t leave Lucienne in a fairy tale bubble but leads to a powerful, moving denouement. Cinematographers Rudolph Maté and Louis Née make beautiful use of Brooks’s glorious face. Approximately 108 minutes. 2012 Restoration courtesy of Cineteca Bologna, screening in DCP.”

San Francisco Silent Film Party 2012

Thursday, July 18 at 9:00 PM
Opening Night Party
Location: McRoskey Mattress Company

“Celebrate the start of SFSFF 2013 with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the Frisky Frolics, and the first-ever SF Silent Film Festival Beauty Contest, all on the amazing top floor loft of the historic McRoskey Mattress Company!”

SF Silent Film Archive Photo

Friday, July 19 at 11:00 AM
Amazing Tales from the Archives (Free!)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“Céline Ruivo, Director of Film Collections at the Cinémathèque française, will present on the Cinémathèque’s restoration of films from the Paris Exposition of 1900, Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. Rob Byrne, film preservationist, will present on his restoration of Allan Dwan’s The Half-Breed starring Douglas Fairbanks (and premiering on July 20).”

The First Born

Friday, July 19 at 2:00 PM
The First Born (UK, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Miles Mander
Cast: Miles Mander, Madeleine Carroll, John Loder, Margot Armand, Ellat Atherton, Ivo Dawson Scenario Miles Mander, Alma Reville

“The directorial debut of actor, writer, and producer Miles Mander, The First Born was adapted from his own novel and play, set in a British upper-class milieu and touching on morality, politics, and the disintegration of a marriage. Sir Hugh Boycott (Mander) and his young bride Madeleine (Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate marriage that is rocked when she fails to produce an heir. Mander’s gem rises above standard melodrama with its deft observance of character, perhaps helped by its co-writer Alma Reville, a well-known advisor to her husband Alfred Hitchcock. The First Born was recently restored by the BFI National Archive. Approximately 88 minutes. 35mm restored print from the BFI National Archive.”

Tokyo Chorus 1

Friday, July 19 at 4:30 PM
Tokyo Chorus (Japan, 1931)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, Hideo Sugawara, Hideko Takamine, Tatsuo Saito, Chouko Iida

“Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Chorus is a delicately composed tale of parental love, middle-class dreams, and suburban and urban realities. A young insurance salesman finds his life turned upside-down when he defends a fired co-worker. His family’s response, particularly his young son who wants a bicycle, is the heart of this film which shows the emergence of Ozu’s mature style—and a wonderful blend of comedy and drama. Approximately 90 minutes. 35mm print from Janus Films.”

The Patsy (1928)directed by King Vidorshown: Marion Davies

Friday, July 19 at 7:00 PM
The Patsy (USA, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Director: King Vidor
Cast: Marion Davies, Orville Caldwell, Marie Dressler, Dell Henderson, Lawrence Gray, Jane Winton

“Before William Randolph Hearst decided that comedic roles were beneath her, Marion Davies had already established herself as a madcap comedienne on the musical stage. Director King Vidor had enough Hollywood clout to defy Hearst and play to Davies’ true strengths and the result is demonstrated in her incandescent performance in The Patsy. J.B. Kaufman writes, “Energetic, irrepressible, bubbling over with good humor yet capable of quiet sensitivity, she proves herself once and for all a genuine star. In her most celebrated scene she demonstrates her talent for mimicry by offering devastatingly accurate impressions of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri. (Mae Murray and Lillian Gish were, like Davies, MGM stars at the time, and Pola Negri’s Three Sinners was released almost simultaneously with The Patsy.)” Approximately 84 minutes. 35mm print from the Library of Congress.”

Klovnen (A.W. Sandberg, DK, 1926)

Friday, July 19 at 9:30 PM
The Golden Clown/Klovnen (Denmark, 1926)
Musical Accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: A.W. Sandberg
Cast: Gösta Ekman, Maurice de Féraudy, Kate Fabian, Karina Bell, Robert Schmidt, Erik Bertner

“Gösta Ekman is the eponymous clown in this tale of rural ways confronting the glamour and danger of the big city. The small town Joe (Ekman) and his circus princess Daisy (Karina Bell) find success in Paris, but become embroiled in a love triangle with a Parisian bon vivant. This beautiful restoration by the Danish Film Institute highlights the exquisite cinematography of Chresten Jørgensen and Einar Olsen. Approximately 128 minutes. 35mm restored print courtesy of the Danish Film Institute.”

Gertie The Dinosaur

Saturday, July 20 at 10:00 AM
Winsor McCay: His Life and Art
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“John Canemaker acclaimed biography Winsor McCay: His Life and Art celebrates the early-twentieth-century genius who gave the world Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur. This special presentation is illustrated with stunning images from Canemaker’s book, as well as screenings of four of McCay’s greatest films: Little Nemo (1911, 3 mins), the first adaptation of a comic strip to a film format; the indelibly disturbing How a Mosquito Operates (1912, 6 mins); Gertie the Dinosaur (1914, 18 mins), the charming and infinitely influential animation McCay designed as part of a Vaudeville act; and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918, 12 mins), a somber animated counterpart to McCay’s editorial cartoons. Approximately 70 minutes.”

The Half-Breed

Saturday, July 20 at 12:00 PM
The Half-Breed (USA, 1916)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Allan Dwan
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Alma Rubens, Sam De Grasse, Tom Wilson, Frank Brownlee, Jewel Carmen, George Beranger

“The great Allan Dwan directed this western drama set amongst the redwoods and filmed in part near Boulder Creek (with Victor Fleming behind the camera!). Based on a story by Bret Harte and adapted by Anita Loos, The Half-Breed stars Douglas Fairbanks as Lo Dorman, a half-Indian outcast from society who lives in the forest and makes his home in a hollow tree. The coquettish pastor’s daughter (Jewel Carmen) toys with his affections, but it is Teresa (Alma Reuben) on the run from the law, who shares Lo’s status as an outsider. This brand new restoration is the result of a partnership between Cinémathèque Française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. World Premiere! Approximately 70 minutes. 2013 Restoration 35mm print.”

Legong

Saturday, July 20 at 2:15 PM
Legong: Dance of the Virgins (Bali, 1935)
Musical accompaniment by Clubfoot Orchestra & Gamelan Sekar Jaya
Director: Henri de la Falaise
Cast: Poetoe Aloes Goesti, Bagus Mara Goesti, Saplak Njoman, Njong Njong Njoman

“One of the last features shot in two-strip Technicolor, Legong was filmed entirely on location in Bali in 1935 by the Marquis Henry de la Falaise (a WWI hero, the ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, and the current spouse of Constance Bennett). The film is a tragic tale of love denied—Poutou, a respected Legong dancer, falls in love with young musician, Nyoung. Her father is delighted with Poutou’s choice and wants to help her to conquer Nyoung’s heart. But Poutou’s half-sister Saplak pines for the musician. When Nyoung chooses Saplak, Poutou drowns herself. Legong’s real theme is much more than mere melodrama—it is the delineation of Balinese culture. De la Falaise captured religious rituals including frenetic dances and mystical parades, and everyday dealings at the local marketplace. Small details chronicling the life of the villagers make the film an absorbing and mesmerizing quasi-documentary in gorgeous Two-Color Technicolor! Approximately 65 minutes. 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.”

Gribiche

Saturday, July 20 at 4:00 PM
Gribiche (France, 1926)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Director: Jacques Feyder
Cast: Jean Forest, Françoise Rosay, Cécile Guyon, Rolla Norman, Charles Barrois, Andrée Canti, Armand Dufour, Serge Otto, Alice Tissot, Major Heitner, Georges Pionnier, Soufflot, Mme. Surgères

“Jacques Feyder’s first film for Films Albatros is the story of a young boy (Jean Forest) who lives with his widowed mother (Cécile Guyon) in a lower-middle-class Paris neighborhood when he is ‘discovered’ by a rich American widow, Mrs. Maranet (Françoise Rosay in her first important role), who decides to adopt the boy and give him a ‘proper education.’ This charming film was recently restored by the Cinémathèque Française with the collaboration of the Franco-American Cultural Fund—DGA, MPA, SACEM, WGA. Approximately 112 minutes. Restored 35mm print from the Cinémathèque Française.”

Parasha from House on Trubnaya Square

Saturday, July 20 at 6:30 PM
The House on Trubnaya Square (USSR, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Boris Barnet
Cast: Vera Maretskaya, Vladimir Fogel, Yelena Tyapkina, Sergei Komarov, Anel Duakevich, Ada Vojtsik

“Our vote for Best Soviet Silent Comedy ever, Trubnaya is a brilliant look at class distinctions in the newly urbanized Soviet Union. ‘Set in a Moscow housing project, where a young scrubwoman discovers a new sense of self after she sees a film about Joan of Arc, this silent 1928 comedy displays a superb technique, a grace with actors, and a talent for eccentric characterizations that suggest Leo McCarey more than Karl Marx.’-—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader. Approximately 64 minutes. 35mm print courtesy of the Pacific Film Archive.”

Joyless Street Scene 2

Saturday, July 20 at 8:30 PM
The Joyless Street/Die freudlose Gasse (Germany, 1925)
Musical accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: G.W. Pabst
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Greta Garbo, Gräfin, Agnes Esterhazy, Werner Krauß, Henry Stuart, Einar Hanson, Grigori Chmara

“Not only one of the most important films of Weimar-era Germany, The Joyless Street is also one of the most spectacular censorship cases of the era. The story from the inflationary period in Vienna in the years immediately after World War I was considered too much of a provocation with its juxtaposition of haves and have nots—that and its frank sexuality. Pabst’s film was twice shortened by the German censors and other countries made cuts or outright banned the film. This painstaking restoration supervised by Stefan Drössler has reconstructed the film as close as possible to Pabst’s intention. It is a magnificent achievement. Approximately 150 minutes. Restored 35mm print from Filmmuseum München.”

Love Nest

Sunday, July 21 at 10:00 AM
Kings of (Silent) Comedy
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald

“Preservationist and showman Serge Bromberg has selected some of his favorite silent era shorts to make gorgeous new transfers using the best materials possible. The films in our program feature titans of silent comedy—Charley Chase, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and of course, Felix the Cat. The Silent Film Festival starts Sunday morning right–with a program fit for the entire family. Titles include: Felix Goes West (USA, d. Otto Messmer, 1924), Mighty Like a Moose (USA, d. Leo McCarey, 1926), The Love Nest (USA, d. Buster Keaton, 1923), The Immigrant (USA, d. Charles Chaplin, 1917). Approximately 71 minutes. DCP presentation.”

Outlaw and His Wife

Sunday, July 21 at 1:00 PM
The Outlaw and His Wife/Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (Sweden, 1918)
Musical accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: Victor Sjöström
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff, John Ekman, Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson, Artur Rolén, Nils Aréhn

“Produced during a renaissance in the Swedish film industry, The Outlaw and His Wife confirmed the promise of director Victor Sjöström, whose previous film, Terje Vigen, had been a big success for Svenska Biograf. Like a western with a romanticized renegade hero, The Outlaw and His Wife is the ballad of an accused thief on the run (played by Sjöström) who finds work on the farm of a generous, self-sufficient widow, and their growing attraction turns to love. When a jealous rival alerts the authorities to the thief’s real identity, the couple take off together into the wilds of Iceland. Approximately 105 minutes. 2013 35mm restoration courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute.”

Last Edition.3

Sunday, July 21 at 3:30 PM
The Last Edition (USA)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“In 2011, film preservationist and SFSFF Board President Rob Byrne learned that an original nitrate print—the only known surviving copy—of The Last Edition existed in the vaults of the Dutch national archive. One of the few surviving films created by Emory Johnson in the mid-1920s, The Last Edition stars veteran actor Ralph Lewis as a pressman at the San Francisco Chronicle. Shot in and around the Chronicle building, the action-packed drama features thrilling chases throughout San Francisco, newspaper production from press to print, and a (literally) ‘stop the presses’ climax that includes a dramatic fire and rescue. This brand new restoration is the result of a partnership between EYE Film Institute Netherlands and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. World Premiere! Approximately 105 minutes. 2013 35mm restoration.”

The Weavers

Sunday, July 21 at 6:00 PM
The Weavers/Die Weber (Germany, 1927)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Friedrich Zelnik
Cast: Paul Wegener, Valeska Stock, Georg Burhahrdt, Emil Lind, Wilhelm Dieterle, Hermann Picha, Herta von Walther, Camilla von Hollay, Theodor Loos, Dagny Servaes

“Based on the 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptman dramatizing a Silesian cotton weavers uprising of 1844, The Weavers was once known as the German Potemkin. Its makers downplayed its radical message, but The Weavers resonated with viewers in 1927 whose social reality reflected a chasm between rich and poor. George Grosz’s sardonic, beautifully drawn intertitle art has been restored to this riveting film. Approximately 97 minutes. 2012 restoration courtesy of F. W. Murnau Stiftung and Transit Film GmbH. Screening in DCP.”

Safety Last Clock Scene

Sunday, July 21 at 8:30 PM
Safety Last! (USA, 1923)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Directors: Sam Taylor, Fred Newmeyer
Cast: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott B. Clarke

“A bespectacled man hanging off the hands of a collapsing clock on the side of a skyscraper high above teeming city streets is one of the most indelible images of cinema. The thrilling climax of Safety Last! is made all the more exciting because Harold Lloyd, one of the masters of silent-era comedy, didn’t need CGI to make it happen. But why he is up there in the first place? A girl of course! Safety Last! takes a familiar story of a boy meets girl and turns it into high-art comedy. Layered with expert gags, the 1923 film inspired Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Agee to write of the climb: ‘Each new floor is like a stanza in a poem.’ Approximately 70 minutes. 2013 restoration courtesy of Janus Films, screening in DCP.”

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