I have attended dozens of film festivals from the biggies like Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Venice, SXSW and Sundance to more intimate gatherings of movies and their makers from Telluride high in the Colorado Mountains, Morelia in Mexico’s Michoacán to Devour! In tiny Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
Most screen new movies with occasional restorations while others focus exclusively on the classics. I like many of them though have burned out on the monster events. The San Francisco Bay Area hosts nearly one hundred film festivals a year including some of the best and most unique.
It is easy for me to claim that the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is my favorite. Some might say, “But they only show old movies.” It is true that most of the films were made before 1930 and the only sound is that of the live music and enthusiastic audience reactions.
One print of Silence is known to survive at the Cinémathèque Française. The Cinémathèque, Rob Byrne, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival collaborated to have the surviving print scanned, digitally repaired and cleaned, translated from French back into the original English, then printed to film for exhibition and preservation.
Custard pies made the news last summer, as a long-lost Laurel & Hardy film, the aptly-named The Battle of the Century (1927), was rediscovered. Containing the legendary double-act’s most extensive pie fight, the movie has been seen only in severely truncated form in recent decades, and the rescued footage is a welcome addition to a filmography whose tantalizing gaps have slowly been disappearing.
The fight itself is a classic, a reminder of how funny and detailed and varied such an activity can be, in the right hands. The first pie is slung by diminutive Charlie Hall, hitting Ollie’s big baby-with-a-tiny-mustache face. The second, Ollie’s retaliatory attempt, goes wide of the mark, according to a long-standing tradition, and explodes over Dorothy Coburn’s shapely ass. She turns to remonstrate and, in accordance with an equally venerable tradition, is hit full in the face by a second crust-load. From here, escalation to total whiteout is as gradual but inevitable as a marital argument or a world war. Soon, an entire street is bustling with gooey combatants, frantically pasting each other with pastries.
“Oh Anatol” is what I guarantee you’ll be sighing throughout The Affairs of Anatol as you follow our hapless hero (played by Wallace Reid) through a series of ill-fated advances on a variety of female archetypes. Continue reading →
by Lincoln Spector and (augmented and updated by) Gary Meyer
I love the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, but it can wear a body down. Especially this year, with 21 programs and a party over the course of four days and five nights. For three of those days, the first screening starts at 10:00 a.m., and the last one starts at 9:30 p.m. The human body isn’t built for that much fun sitting down. Continue reading →