Tuesday, May 5, 2009

SFIFF52 Day 13: The Lost World

The 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival is in the home stretch; it runs through May 7th. Each day during the festival I've been posting about one film I've seen or am hotly anticipating.

The Lost World (USA: Harry O. Hoyt, 1925)

playing: 8 PM tonight at the Castro, with no more showtimes later in the festival.
distributor: The print comes from George Eastman House and various cuts of the film (not this more complete one, I understand) are available on DVD, but there's nothing like seeing a silent movie in 35mm with live musical accompaniment.

Yesterday I wrote a bit about festival fatigue, but I was mostly joking at the time. What a difference a day makes. Now I'm truly exhausted, but am optimistic that tonight's screening will pull me out of my funk for the duration. How can it not? It's a presentation of a not-to-be-taken-seriously silent film, combined with a performance by what is currently my favorite rock-and-roll band to experience live. The film is the Lost World, a dinosaur adventure that was a milestone of early special effects achievements that I've heretofore only seen excerpted. The version the festival is screening was discovered by archivist-historian Jan Horak in Czechoslovakia and, according to my sources, is the most complete available as it even contains original intertitles missing from home video editions.

The band is Dengue Fever, and I've seen them a half-dozen or so times since first attending an Amoeba Records in-store performance several years ago. At that time they were playing covers of Cambodian "garage rock" tunes from the pre-Khmer Rouge era. These catchy, surf-music-infused songs are still a principle part of their repertoire, but they have branched out to include Khmer-language originals, English-language covers, and instrumentals in various stripes of danceable. Now they're the main musical attraction at their largest Frisco Bay venue yet, the 1400-seat Castro. The group spokesman Zak Holtzman has granted two terrific interviews, at sf360 and the Evening Class, which give a hint of the band's approach to scoring their first silent film. If their melodic energy can't lift my mood and put me back on the festival track, I'll be shocked.

One note: I've been warned that in its complete form the Lost World is one of those silent-era films that remind us that 1925 was also an era of severe ignorance in many areas, and I'm not just talking about popular understandings of paleontology. I'm told the film includes a character meant to be Brazilian, but portrayed as if a confirmation of Jim Crow stereotypes of Blacks. I'm glad the festival is showing the film uncensored, as it's well worth reminding modern audiences that Hollywood once had no compunction against perpetuating prejudices we find completely unacceptable today. They were unacceptable then, too, but the moviemaking machine was generally unfazed by voices of protest as long as each gear was generating revenue. Perhaps one can look at tonight's screening in part as a celebration of a certain amount of progress in this arena.

SFIFF52 Day 13
Another option: Still Walking (JAPAN: Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2008) I can't believe I haven't included a single East Asian film in these daily recommendations up until now. This paradoxically-titled film was one of my most-highly anticipated of the festival and I'm smarting from having to at the last minute skip the other night's screening with director in attendance. Andrew Schenker makes me all the more rueful, though I believe the film does have a US distributor.
Non-SFIFF-option for today: Old Joy (USA: Kelly Reichardt, 2006) at the Red Vic; for me, Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy surpassed this previous feature as a character study with the Pacific Northwest as one of the main characters, but if you haven't seen this one it's just as essential, with a score by Yo La Tengo and a terrific performance by Will Oldham.


  1. I recently read the book of short stories from which Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy came. I think it was just published--or in any case the SFPL just acquired it a couple of months ago. How did the films come out just about as soon as the book?
    Loved the story on which Wendy and Lucy is based, not as crazy about Old Joy.

  2. Thanks for the comment! Both films are now available on DVD and I'd be curious to learn your reaction.