Sunday, May 3, 2015

Monte-Cristo (1929)

A scene from Henri Fescourt's MONTE-CRISTO, playing at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 - May 7 2015. Courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.
WHO: Besides Alexandre Dumas, père, who wrote (or actually co-wrote with Auguste Maquet) the famous novel from which this screen adaptation was based, the best-remembered creative involved in this film's creation is probably Lil Dagover, who performed in this French film a decade after her roles in Fritz Lang's the Spiders and Harakiri,and in Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

WHAT: I haven't seen this yet, so let me quote from a recent article by David Cairns:
If the style is modernist (also: extreme close-ups; zip-pans; swooning drifts in and out of focus; a shot of a sparkling sea when the hero, long imprisoned in the dark, is blinded by daylight), the settings are gloriously traditional, with lavish sets, augmented by special effects, elegant costumes and varied exotic locations.
WHERE/WHEN: 1:00 today only at the Kabuki, courtesy of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF).

WHY: Monte-Cristo is one of the last serials produced during the silent era in the country that made such an early and critical mark on the form with multi-episode films like Les Vampyres and Judex. Seriality of course now dominates popular cinema, at least at this time of year, even if we don't always admit it to ourselves. For those who enjoyed attending UC Berkeley's conference and screenings on seriality in silent cinema and beyond this past February, attending today's screening is a no-brainer.

Monte-Cristo was not long ago restored from disparate sources in various archive, and is presented as the carte-blanche selection of Mel Novikoff Award winner Lenny Borger, who will be interviewed by Scott Foundas on stage prior to the showing. Recent recipients of this award have included critics (David Thomson, J. Hoberman, the late Manny Farber & Roger Ebert), archivists (Serge Bromberg, Kevin Brownlow, Paolo Cherchi Usai) and programmers/exhibitors (Anita Monga, Bruce Goldstein, Pierre Rissient, the late Peter Von Bagh.) This is, I believe, the first time the award is going to someone who is best known for his work as a subtitler. It's high time, as this key role in the transmission of international cinema is often taken for granted, especially in a near-insatiable market for foreign films like that of the Bay Area, where a recent trend of exhibiting films with utterly (and often obviously, even to a linguistic ignoramus) amateur subtitle translations has gotten a foothold in at least one prominent independent theatre.

Is it ironic that a subtitler has chosen a silent film as his presentation selection? It makes me wonder if he is able to enjoy watching a film with subtitled dialogue without giving the translations his own professional critique.

Of course Frisco Bay loves its silent films and usually embraces another opportunity to see an obscure one on the big screen. We're coming up on a season of many such opportunities, as the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is just around the corner at the end of this month (aforementioned Bromberg, Brownlow, Goldstein and of course festival director Monga all expected to attend) and the Niles Silent Film Museum has just issued its newest calendar pdf, including the line-up for its Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival in late June.

SFIFF also provides two more silent film screenings, both with live musical accompaniment, this week. Cibo Matto performs to a 35mm print of Marcel Duchamp's Anemic Cinema (as well as some more recent works in which they will replace an original soundtrack with their own) Tuesday, and Kronos Quartet provides the music for Bill Morrison's recent compilation of World War I footage on Wednesday.

HOW: Screens from a digital master (the only way this particular restoration exists), with Borger's preferred musical accompaniment recorded onto the digital "print".

OTHER SFIFF OPTIONS: Today's the final screening of the excellent program of experimental shorts that I discussed Wednesday, and of the animated shorts program I touched on last weekend. It's also the first screening of local filmmaker Jennifer Phang's sci-fi feature Advantageous (full disclosure: I'm friends with Phang and her editor Sean Gillane, and contributed to this feature's crowd-funding campaign. I bought my ticket to tonight's show and can't wait!)

NON-SFIFF OPTION: Today SF Cinematheque hosts a video/performance variation of the incredible installation Kit Young had up at Artists' Television Access earlier this year, as well as performance from Any Puls and others.