Friday, July 8, 2011


Two sad pieces of news relevant to this blog started off this shortened week. First, the announcement that San Francisco Film Society executive director Graham Leggat is stepping down for health reasons, after five years of wonderful service to the city's extended film community. He strengthened the city's foremost film exhibition organization in immeasurable ways at a moment when leadership like his was sorely needed, but I also appreciated his rare candor as a contributor to the programming team for the annual San Francisco International Film Festival. He wasn't afraid to publicly admit his favorite film in the festival, even if it was a potentially alienating one to the casual observer. (In 2006 he cited Tsai Ming-Liang's The Wayward Cloud, and this year his pick was Lech Majewski's The Mill and the Cross). Leah Garchik has a good article that details his reasons for departure, and shows us that Leggat's courage is in no way limited to his approach to film programming.

Another sad, if very much predicted, news item was the Red Vic's official announcement that it will definitely be closing July 25th after thirty-one years of operation on Haight Street. This is the first time I've closed one of the parentheses on my "Frisco Cinemas" sidebar list. I recently went through my records to figure that I've seen at least 75 screenings there in the past decade and a half (or so). It sounds like a lot, but right now I'm also thinking of all the films I never got around to seeing when they (in some cases quite frequently) played there. Who's going to bring around prints of Foxy Brown or The Good Old Naughty Days or The Holy Mountain or Stop Making Sense (which I must miss when it plays July 15-16) once the venue is shut? Reminiscences are popping up all over the web, but perhaps the most pointed and poignant is Peter Hartlaub's. Cheryl Eddy's interview with Claudia Lehan is the best article I've seen on the details behind the closure.

I don't want to dwell on negative news though. The reason I won't be able to catch Stop Making Sense at the Red Vic next week is that I'll be celebrating the cinema of the 1900s, 1910s, 1920s and even early 1930s with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival from Thursday night until Sunday night. The festival's own blog has been gearing up for the event for weeks now with its remarkably informative series Film Preservation Fridays. Today's entry is an interview with two of the archivists instrumental in bringing festival opener Upstream to light after decades when even the most knowledgeable John Ford scholars assumed it lost. A must-read.

The San Francisco Public Library is also preparing for the event by spreading an exhibition about silent film in several locations on the fourth and sixth floors of the Main Library. Thomas Gladysz has curated one section of the exhibit, "Reading The Stars", focusing on books about filmmaking and famous filmmakers, and on movie tie-ins, all published during the silent era! Another section, curated by Rory J. O'Connor, looks at silent-era filmmaking in San Francisco and elsewhere around Frisco Bay. A third, on the sixth floor, is devoted to silent-era movie palaces. The library will be hosting two events around the exhibition, which will remain up until August 28th. This Sunday at 2PM the library will host a projected video screening of Son of the Sheik starring Rudolph Valentino. Valentino expert Donna Hill will be on hand to introduce the screening and sign copies of her breathtakingly beautiful book of rare Valentino photographs. Then, on August 7th, Diana Serra Carey, who performed in 1920s films as "Baby Peggy", will talk about her life in Hollywood and screen an as-yet-unnamed short film. Both events are free to the public, as is the exhibition.

I was recruited to get involved in this exhibit in a very small way: by providing a piece of text talking about this year's Silent Film Festival for one of the display cases. Librarian Gretchen Good, who organized the exhibition along with the SFPL exhibitions staff (including Maureen Russell) said it would be fine to publish the text on my blog as well, so here it is, though I couldn't resist jazzing it up with some hyperlinks:

Every summer for the past fifteen years, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has taken over the Castro Theatre for a weekend of great movies, live music, and the conviviality of silent film fans. The 16th annual festival, held July 14-17, 2011, is their biggest event yet. Thirteen feature films made on four different continents will screen, along with two programs of shorts (one devoted to Walt Disney's first films, one to the earliest special effects films), two free programs of film archivists presenting their latest restorations and unearthings from the vaults, and much more.

Marlene Dietrich, Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, Janet Gaynor, George O'Brien, Louise Dressler, Pina Menichelli and Douglas Fairbanks are some of the stars featured in this year's festival films. Well-known classics like F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But..., and Victor Sjöström's He Who Gets Slapped screen along with recently rediscovered films like Allan Dwan's Mr. Fix-It and John Ford's Upstream. Seven musical ensembles and soloists rotate in performing live musical scores to each film, and gather Saturday, July 16th on a panel discussion to talk about the role of music in the silent film world.

Every year the festival gives an award to an organization or individual for "distinguished contributions to the preservation and restoration of world film heritage." This year's award is presented to the UCLA Film & Television Archive at a screening of The Goose Woman. American Sign Language interpreters are on hand for the festival's special-guest introductions and panels. Film lovers travel from far and wide to attend the festival, but the screenings are just as fun for people who have never seen a silent movie before.
Hope to see you at the festival next week!


  1. Great write-up, Brian. It's great to know that I can still rely on you to keep me informed of film events in the Bay Area. Look forward to seeing you at the festival.

  2. Thanks, Michael! I see Your site is gearing up for the festival as well! See you soon...

  3. Wish I could be there with you guys... always a drag to miss this weekend. Oh well, I've plenty to do. And, I trust, there will be more Silent Fests in the future.

  4. ben armington7/13/11, 11:56 AM

    Enjoyed your Fairbanks piece over at Fandor Brian! I watched Mystery Of The Leaping Fish after we talked last and really really loved it. i wonder if Hunter S Thompson (or terry gilliam) was a fan? pretty gonzo stuff...

  5. Thanks guys. The article Ben is speaking of is here; a summation of Douglas Fairbanks's career. Can't wait to see Mr. Fix-It on Saturday!

    I don't know if Thompson or Gilliam saw Mystery of the Leaping Fish but it was definitely a cult item popular on college campuses and other counter-cultural screening venues in the sixties/seventies. So I wouldn't be surprised if they'd run across it around then.