Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mark Your Calendar: Silent Film Festival and More


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I've left link hints in my previous two posts, but I'm not sure how many of my readers follow all the purple-font clickables in some of my more densely-packed entries (what say you, readers?). So I'd like to take a bit of time to point out some of what's going to be playing at the 13th Annual Silent Film Festival, to be held at the Castro Theatre this July 11th, 12th and 13th. As I did last year, I will be contributing an approximately 1200-word essay on one of the films to the festival program guide and developing a slide show presentation to be seen before the film begins. I've been attending biweekly meetings of the festival's Writers Group, where the essayists for each of the films compare research notes and drafts. So you could say I've been biased by hearing all sorts of fascinating things about each of the films in the program. But I was excited by all eleven feature films playing this year's edition from the moment they were revealed to the writers group a few weeks ago, and I honestly would have enjoyed researching and writing on any one of them.

But I'm thrilled that I'm getting to research what was my first choice from among the selections (picked by festival programmers Stephen Salmons and Stacey Wisnia.) The first Japanese feature ever to play at the festival, it's called Jujiro, or Crossways in English. It was directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, perhaps best-known for his remarkable a Page of Madness made two years before Jujiro. I haven't seen the film I'm writing on myself yet, but I've been delving as deeply as I can into English-language sources on it, on Kinugasa, and on the context of silent-era filmmaking in Japan. Every day I feel more certain that I'm going to love seeing Jujiro projected in a reportedly astonishing 35mm print provided by the BFI at the Castro in a few months.

The weekend-long program will open Friday, July 11th with what happens to be my personal favorite Harold Lloyd film, the Kid Brother. Having seen it with organ accompaniment at the Stanford Theatre several years ago, I can attest that Lloyd's rural exploits in this film slay an audience in the mood to laugh. Another comedy showing during the weekend is one of the original flapper Colleen Moore's few surviving films, Her Wild Oat. I've only seen Moore in the talkie the Power and the Glory and interviewed in Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's "Hollywood" series of documentaries, but that's more than enough to make me eager to see her in a silent film.

I'm also eager to fill a few gaps in my knowledge of a pair of European auteurs, Carl Theodore Dreyer and Rene Clair. The Dreyer film being shown by the festival is his early gay-themed drama Michael, and the Clair film is his last silent Les Deux Timides, a comedy. Between Dreyer, Clair and Kinugasa, there's some very prestigious directing muscle behind this year's foreign film selections; there are actually other well-known directors on the program schedule besides those three, but if I'm going to finish this post before passing out tonight I'd better leave it at that for now.

Well, maybe just one more. Or two, really. Tod Browning is another favorite around these parts, and the festival is bringing him back this year along with his favored star Lon Chaney. The film is the Unknown, and it features Joan Crawford in one of her first film roles, possibly as young as 19 (various sources on Crawford reveal various birth years, the latest being 1908, hence the centennial tributes popping up this year.) It will be shown at a late Saturday night screening and, here's the kicker, introduced by Guy Maddin. Maddin has designated the film as his "Director's Pick," something new for the Silent Film Festival. Presumably, in future festivals other current-day directors will be invited to present a silent-era film they feel particularly fond of.

Of course, this will not be Maddin's first trip to Frisco in 2008. He's also expected at the 51st SF International Film Festival that opens this Thursday, attending the first two of the festival's screenings of his latest curiosity My Winnipeg on May 1 & 3. I've seen My Winnipeg and feel confident in assuring Guy Maddin fans that they will not be disappointed in this new film. Unless they have an unexplainable aversion to Ann Savage, who puts in a terrific performance re-enacting the part of Guy's mother. Or to shots of snow, in which case how could you be a Guy Maddin fan in the first place? My Winnipeg is also narrated by Maddin, and I've heard conflicting guesses from people who saw him narrate the film live in Toronto as to whether they expect him to repeat that performance for his SFIFF appearances.

In case you haven't noticed, I've segued out of talking about the Silent Film Festival and am on to other events. I'll try to be quick, getting down to only the bare essentials so I can go to sleep.

As I mentioned, the SF International Film Festival opens this Thursday and runs for two weeks. The (in part) festival-funded sf360 already has the most voluminous coverage from its crack team of writers. Once again I'd also like to point in the direction of Michael Hawley on the Evening Class, who anticipates attending a very similar selection of festival films to the schedule I hope to use. One film Michael leaves out, however, is Johnny To's Linger, which I'm thrilled to see programmed as I have as much interest in To's non-gangster films as I do in the Triad- and/or hitmen-themed films he's best known for. I'm at least as interested in To's thematic concerns and his mise-en-scene as I am interested in him as a genre interpreter.

Some may have wondered why Linger was picked for the SFIFF instead of the more-acclaimed Mad Detective, which appeared at the Venice Film Festival and others. Well, their chance to see Mad Detective comes with the release of the newest PFA calendar. It's not the most jam-packed calendar of the year, as the Berkeley venue will be closed for three weeks following its stint as a venue for the SFIFF, and will also not be running programs on Mondays or Tuesdays in June. But the calendar does include a 9-title series of To's action films, including Mad Detective, which I've not seen yet. Of the eight I have seen my favorite is the goofy Running on Karma. Throw Down is the one I most feel I should give a second chance to after not liking it as much as I'd hoped the first time around. I do wish a Hero Never Dies had been selected as well, as it's my very favorite To film.

Other newly-announced PFA programs include the entire Berlin Alexanderplatz in four parts May 30-June 7, an all-day marathon of Lynn Hershman Leeson video works June 1, a very welcome Joan Blondell series including the big-screen must-see Footlight Parade and John Cassavetes' Opening Night, and a pair of series devoted to filmmakers I've never heard of (any reader suggestions would be welcome): Austria's Axel Corti and Turkey's Zeki Demirkubuz. In conjunction with the BAM exhibition of Bruce Conner's Mabuhay Gardens photographs, there will be four guest-filled Thursday evenings of punk films culminating in a June 26 pairing of Penelope Spheeris' seminal Decline of Western Civilization (the first, best, original segment in the eventual trilogy) with Conner's influential Devo promo Mongoloid.

And before I finally sign off, I just want to pick out the very best of the latest calendars from Red Vic on Haight Street and the Rafael in Marin county. The Red Vic calendar, amidst its usual excellent mix of premieres and second-run "last chance before DVD" screenings, has a few repertory gems in its lineup this time around, most notably a June 10th screening of Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, which I've never seen before, and a June 22-23 short stand of Max Ophuls's the Earrings of Madame de..., which I've only seen on VHS but love dearly. While the Rafael will be hosting a Jimmy Stewart retrospective Sunday and Wednesday evenings from May 18 through June 18. Having never seen the Shop Around the Corner on the big screen and the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at all you can bet I've already started scheming ways to secure transportation to and from San Rafael on June 1 and June 18, respectively.