San Francisco Silent Film Festival–Winter Edition

We think of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival as a summer event, but they’re taking over the Castro on December 1 for three presentations–two of them with live musical accompaniment.

There’s a good reason why the 11:00am show won’t have live music: It’s not silent. Warner’s Vitaphone short subjects were among the first widely-seen sound films. Little more than stage acts performed in front of a very crude camera/recorder setup, they now offer what is probably the best existing record of vaudeville at its height. The festival will screen a series of these time-machine shorts.

Then, at 2:00, we get D. W. Griffith’s massive four-story epic, Intolerance. One of the most spectacular movies ever made, Intolerance interweaves four stories–the fall of Babylon, the life of Jesus, the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre, and a modern tale of poverty and injustice in urban America–cutting back and forth between them. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this massive spectacle (and disastrous flop back in 1916), but I remember it as a mixed bag, clumsy one moment and amazing the next. I suspect that watching it at the Castro, in 35mm, with Dennis James at the Wurlitzer, the amazing just might overwhelm the clumsy.

The day ends at 8:00 with Flesh and the Devil, the 1926 romantic melodrama that first paired Greta Garbo with John Gilbert and turned Garbo into a star. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen this one, but that amazing Garbo/Gilbert chemistry isn’t something one easily forgets. Once again, Dennis James will do the organ honors, although how one can play Intolerance and any other movie in the same day is beyond me.