This is a great week for silent movie lovers. We’ve got The Gold Rush with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Sunrise with organ accompaniment (it usually plays with the original Movietone track), and Sherlock Jr. with hip-hop.
On the festival beat, the Sonoma International Film Festival starts its four-day run on Thursday.
A The Gold Rush, Davies Symphony Hall, 2:00. Of all the important works of the silent era—at least the preserved ones—none is more difficult to see properly than Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 masterpiece (his own personal favorite). The fault lies in Chaplin himself, who re-edited The Gold Rush and added narration in 1942, then insisted that the alteration was the definitive version. (See The Altered Charlie Chaplin Problem.) But now is your chance to see the original, accompanied not by piano, or organ, or even by spoken narration from the world’s greatest mime, but by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The catch: It’s expensive, and seats are running out. A few tickets are also available Friday the 16th (that’s when I’m going) and Saturday the 17th.
A+ Sunrise, Castro, Sunday. New Print! Haunting, romantic, and impressionistic, F. W. Murnau’s first American feature turns the mundane into the fantastic and the world into a work of art. The plot is simple: A marriage, almost destroyed by another woman, is healed by a day in the city. But the execution, with its stylized sets, beautiful photography, and talented performers, makes it both touchingly personal and abstractly mythological. Basically a silent film, the 1927 Sunrise was one of the first films released with a soundtrack (music and effects, only). But the Castro will skip the soundtrack and present this masterpiece with live accompaniment by Warren Lubich on the Wurlitzer pipe organ.
B+ Sherlock Jr., Pacific Film Archive, Thursday, 7:30. There’s nothing new about special effects. Buster Keaton used them extensively, in part to comment on the nature of film itself, in this story of a projectionist who dreams he’s a great detective. The sequence where he enters the movie screen and finds the scenes changing around him would be impressive if it were made today; for 1924, when the effects had to be done in the camera, it’s mind-boggling. Since it’s Keaton, Sherlock Jr. is also filled with impressive stunts and very funny gags. This is an extremely short “feature,” running only about 45 minutes (depending on the projection speed). As a PFA Cine/Spin presentation, Sherlock Jr. will be accompanied by UC Berkeley DJs who will “bust a move on Buster Keaton [with] vinyl audio augments and digital enhancements.” Keep an open mind.
B A Night at the Opera, Rafael, Thursday, 7:00. The Marx Brothers moved up in the world when they left Paramount for MGM—bigger budgets and bigger grosses. But the need to be more commercial cost them a lot of their bite. Their first MGM extravaganza has some of their best routines (“The party of the first part,” the overcrowded stateroom), but you have to sit through a dumb romantic plot, very unmarxist sentimentality, and insipid love songs. Introduced by actor Frank Ferrante, acclaimed by The New York Times as "the greatest living interpreter of Groucho Marx’s material."
D Warlords, Lumiere and Shattuck, opens Friday for one week. Huge, cumbersome, and melodramatic, The Warlords succeeds primarily in being loud. Set during the Taiping Rebellion, it stars Jet Li as a general who turns a group of bandits into an unbeatable army with the help of two bandit leaders who become his blood brothers. There’s a love triangle, as well. The battle scenes are big, but seldom thrilling and often laughable. Li’s General Pang commits multiple atrocities, but we’re supposed to forgive him because he cries as he does them. When the movie ended with a quote from itself, “Dying is easy. Living is harder,” I suppressed the desire to finish the old cliché properly: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
B The Big Lebowski, Red Vic, Sunday through Tuesday. Critics originally panned this Coen Brothers gem as a disappointing follow-up to the Coen’s previous endeavor, Fargo. Well, it isn’t as good as the Coen’s masterpiece, but it’s still one hell of a funny movie. It’s also built quite a cult following; The Big Lebowski has probably played more Bay Area one-night stands in the years I’ve been maintaining this site than than any three other movies put together.