Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy Bastille Day at the Silent Film Festival!

Only hours until the San Francisco Silent Film Festival begins, and word comes from the twitter feed of London-based composed Carl Davis, that he will be conducting the Oakland East Bay Symphony as they perform the score to the 1927 Abel Gance film Napoléon as the film unspools on the screen at the Paramount Theatre of the Arts in Oakland. According to the trailer linked to by Davis, the performances will be on March 24, 25, 31, and April 1st, 2012.

This is momentous news for silent film fans, as it represents the first official announcement that two of last year's special Oscar award recipients, Kevin Brownlow and Francis Ford Coppola. have found their way to collaborate after many years of being at odds over the rights to show Napoléon. This article helps explain why the film has not shown in a US cinema in nearly three decades, and why the version restored by Brownlow and scored by Davis has never been seen by American moviegoers.

For my part, I've never seen Napoléon, other than in brief clips like those seen in Brownlow's excellent documentary series (co-produced by David Gill) Cinema Europe: the Other Hollywood. Too young to have known about the screenings put on with Carmine Coppola's score until they'd already happened, and not well-heeled enough to catch this outdoor screening in 1997, I've always sensed that seeing it in a theatre, as opposed to on the VHS tapes available at Le Video and a few other surviving rental stores, would be worth the wait. It's been a long one, but there are only eight more months of it to go!

This announcement more than makes up for the fact that this summer marks the first SF Silent Film Festival since 2005 in which there hasn't been a program devoted to French films (although a few French shorts appear on the festival's sole all-digital program, Wild and Weird, including the hilarious Arthème Swallows his Clarinet.) Happy Bastille Day!

Brownlow, as you may have heard, will be returning to the festival this weekend after being awarded last year, will be back to speak at the 10AM Sunday morning event Amazing Tales From The Archives. Having seen the man speak at length on his love of silent film before, I predict that this is going to be the highlight of the entire festival for many (if not all) of its attendees. And it's free! Thomas Gladysz agrees, and he should know, having been involved in the silent film world far longer than I have. Get to the Castro Theatre early for this one!

Some more articles on or related to the 2011 SF Silent Film Festival, in case you still haven't decided what to watch:

Carl Martin on the provenance of the prints and restorations.
Michael Hawley has a comprensive preview of the line-up.
Dennis Harvey writes about A Nail In the Boot for the SF Bay Guardian and on Shoes for sf360.
J. F. DeFreitas on the line-up, with a special focus on Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But.... (which is the film I wrote on for the program guide. Be sure to arrive at the Friday, 4:15 show a little early to catch the slide show on Ozu that I've prepared!)
It's Silent Film Week at the Fandor Keyframe blog, and I've contributed a piece on Douglas Fairbanks. I can't wait to see him in Mr. Fix-It on Saturday!
The festival's own blog has begun collecting more links as well.

I would also be remiss in neglecting to mention a few other Frisco Bay screenings of note, for those whose budget is too tight to wrap around Silent Film Festival ticket prices. Lech Majewski's incredible digital opera The Roe's Room plays tonight at SFMOMA. The new Stanford Theatre calendar is up, and it includes four Friday evenings of Buster Keaton films accompanied by Dennis James at the Wurlitzer, starting tomorrow night. And the Pacific Film Archive's upcoming weekend is full of rarely-screened but highly-regarded films, most notably a new print of Bernardo Bertolucci's epic 1900.


  1. I`m a sucker for old movies and mainly for silent films. I'm sorry I can not get to this festival.

  2. I'm sorry too! I've already bought tickets to two of the Napoléon screenings, and am contemplating more...