Perhaps it’s the fog. When summer rolls around in the Bay Area, people want to go to the movies. And a sufficient number of those people want to go to silent movies, preferably accompanied by live music.
You can devote three of June’s five weekends to silent film. And that doesn’t even include the biggest silent event of all–in mid-July. And there’s even something coming up in August.
Here’s what you can look forward to:
June 1 & 2: Charlie Chaplin Days, downtown Niles
Chaplin spent the second year of his movie career in the small East Bay town of Niles (now a Fremont neighborhood), and the town celebrates that stay every year. Expect art exhibits, carnival games, and on Sunday, a lookalike contest. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum will screen a selection of shorts from 11:30am to 4:00 each day (they will, alas, be the same selection), as well as another selection on Saturday night, with Bruce Loeb on the piano.
June 14 – 16: The Hitchcock 9, Castro,
Alfred Hitchcock didn’t just burst onto the scene in 1934. He directed 18 features before that; ten of them silent. This series, put on by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, will screen nine of those features–all newly restored. It opens with Blackmail (1929), which is both his last silent and his first talkie–he made two versions and the Festival will screen the superior silent version. It ends with his very first thriller, The Lodger, from 1926. Most of the films will be accompanied on piano by either Stephen Horne or Judith Rosenberg, but three will be full treatment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
June 28 – 30: Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum,
Yes, Charlie Chaplin worked in Niles for a year, but Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson (real name: Maxwell Aronson) worked there much longer, and owned the studio. In his honor, the Museum runs an annual silent film festival every June. This year’s event includes the Marion Davies Hollywood backstage comedy Show People, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (the first animated feature), Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., and, of course, a collection of Broncho Billy western shorts. Assorted local pianists will supply the music.
July 18 – 21: SF Silent Film Festival, Castro,
Always the biggest Bay Area silent film event of the year. The festival opens with Louise Brooks’ last starring film, Prix de Beaute. Also on the program: Ozu’s family comedy Tokyo Chorus, a selection of works by animation pioneer Winsor McCay, and an early (1916) Douglas Fairbanks feature called The Half-Breed. If you enjoy Show People at Broncho Billy, you can catch Marion Davies again in The Patsy (both films were directed by King Vidor). I’ve seen the late silent, Technicolor Legong: Dance of the Virgins too long ago to really comment about it, but accompaniment by Gamelan Sekar Jaya seems appropriate. The whole thing ends on a high note–literally–with Harold Lloyd’s most iconic film, Safety Last! As usual, the Festival will bring in musicians from all over the world, including Stephen Horne, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, the Matti Bye Ensemble, and someone I’ve never heard of named Günter Buchwald.
August 16 – 31: The Hitchcock 9 (East Bay edition), Pacific Film Archive,
If you missed these films at the Castro, here’s your second chance–this time spread out over a couple of weeks. Pianist Judith Rosenberg will do all of the accompaniment this time.