Saturday, October 18, 2008

Silent Movies In Big (and not-quite-so big) Spaces

The Paramount Theatre in Oakland, by far the grandest movie palace in which I've ever seen a film projected (sorry, Ziegfeld), hasn't shown a film since January 2007, when they played Double Indemnity to an appreciative audience including yours truly. But they're having a go of it again. A brief series of Friday night films began last night with a screening of the dearly departed Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. I learned about it mere hours before, which was not enough time to change my evening plans or to blog about it before hand. So I'm telling you now. The art deco temple to luxury and entertainment, has booked Lon Chaney in the Phantom of the Opera with live Wurlitzer organ accompaniment by Jim Riggs on October 31st, Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest November 7th, and Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain November 21st. With a promise of more to come (though I've learned not to place too much stock in these kinds of promises...I'll keep you posted). The tradition of the old-time movie night, complete with newsreel, cartoon, and "Dec-o-win" prize giveaway, will remain intact. And the price has been lowered back down to $5, perfect for folks with concern that the nation's economy may be coming closer to resembling that of 1931 (the year the Paramount was built) than is comfortable. What great news about a film venue I'd pretty much written off last year after reading this piece.

The Paramount is not the only Frisco Bay venue screening Phantom of the Opera on Halloween. Dennis James will take the controls of the 9,000-pipe Ruffatti organ to accompany the Rupert Julian-directed film at Davies Symphony Hall that evening. The tickets are more expensive but the unique nature of the event (the first organ-accompanied silent I've seen booked at Davies since I've been paying attention) may be worth it. Hopefully both venues will be showing the film on 35mm prints, unlike Grace Cathedral which projected from a DVD on a disappointingly modest screen when this horror warhorse was shown last New Year's Eve.

There are more silent films with live musical accompaniment to anticipate over the coming months. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has its own Halloween screening next Saturday, October 25th: F.W. Murnau's loose Dracula adaptation Nosferatu with an original score by Molly Axtman, performing with her Invisible Ensemble. The museum's Edison Theatre is nowhere near the size of the Paramount or Davies, and when they program a film as well-known as Nosferatu there it tends to sell out- let that be a warning. There are lesser-known, piano-accompanied silents every Saturday night in Niles (reachable by a short bus ride from the Union City BART stop) planned through the end of 2008, with a few extra days thrown in for good measure. Tonight is the monthly Comedy Shorts Night, with more shorts programmed November 15 and December 13. November 1st brings the Goose Woman, directed by Clarence Brown. November 8th and 9th is a weekend-long celebration of the 90th birthday of Diana Serra Cary, a.k.a. child star Baby Peggy. Carey will be in attendance. Douglas Fairbanks, who would be 125 if he were still alive, also gets a two-day celebration in Niles December 6th and 7th, including screenings of When the Clouds Roll By and National Film Registry selection Wild and Wooly. Other features set to grace the Edison Theatre include the Lost Express November 22, Young Romance (a 1915 Lasky film written by William C. de Mille) November 29, the fun-for-all-ages 1924 Peter Pan December 20 and 21, and John Ford's 3 Bad Men, a reportedly major influence on Akira Kurosawa, on December 27.

Pianist Judith Rosenberg will accompany three Soviet silent films at the Pacific Film Archive this Sunday and on the next two Wednesdays as part of the wonderful Envisioning Russia series running there. The November-December calendar at the PFA has not been announced in full yet, but I do know this: three Saturday afternoons in November will bring Buster Keaton films as part of the theatre's Movie Matinees For All Ages program. It's Go West on November 8, Sherlock, Jr., the Scarecrow and Cops November 15, and Our Hospitality and the Haunted House November 29.

The next Castro Theatre calendar can be downloaded as a pdf, and though it's dominated by a month-long booking of Milk, a highlight looks to be a November 17 screening of one of the greatest silent films of all time, Carl Dreyer's the Passion of Joan of Arc, accompanied by the UC Alumni Chorus performing Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light oratorio. There will be a repeat performance November 23 at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, and both programs are co-sponsored by the PFA, which makes me feel confident that it will be screened in 35mm and not video. Sadly the same will not be true for the screening of Indian silent film a Throw of Dice, showing from HD with no live musical accompaniment November 15 as part of the Third i South Asian Film Festival. If you're wondering why the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's annual winter event doesn't occupy a Castro date on the coming calendar, rest assured it will happen on February 14th, 2009. Last I heard, the program line-up had not been firmed up yet but it promises to be a lovely time.

Finally, for those of you in the South Bay who feel like you may be missing out, Stanford Lively Arts is bringing the Santa Rosa Symphony to Palo Alto December 6th to perform Martin Matalon's score to Fritz Lang's enduring science fiction spectacle Metropolis. I doubt the version being shown will include the film's recently rediscovered footage- it's too soon to expect it to appear in circulating prints, I suspect. But this description of Matalon's score: "conventional instruments combine with computerized sound modeling and electronics in a vivid, jazz-infused soundtrack" has me very curious nonetheless.


  1. It's nice having you back at the helm, Cap'n.

  2. It's good to be back! By the way, I found your see-worthy interview with Lance Hammer quite admiralble. Release the Ballast- into as many theatres as possible!