Silent Film Festival Report: Sunday

Kings of (Silent) Comedy

Of course it was funny. There was really no question about it. This was my first chance seeing "Mighty Like a Moose" and "The Immigrant" on the big screen, and both were wonderful that way. The cartoon, "Felix Goes West," wasn’t of the same quality, but it delivered enough laugh to be worth the time. And Buster Keaton’s "The Love Nest" is always fun to watch.

The movies were projected off a DCP, but that’s no more a guarantee of quality than is imagea 35mm print. The image quality for "Mighty Like a Moose" really disappointed me. It looked like it was mastered off a DVD. The image quality for "The Love Nest" also left much to be desired, but the problems were all film-based. That isn’t surprising; this film was lost for decades and no known good sources survive. No image-quality complaints for the other films.

As an added surprise, they showed some home movies of Stan Laurel late in his life. It’s strange to see him out of character. There was actual intelligence in his eyes.

Günter Buchwald’s accompaniment on piano and violin supported the shorts without distracting us. In one scene in "The Immigrant," set in a restaurant, he seemed to become the musicians playing onscreen.i

The Outlaw and His Wife

I’m not sure if I just saw an excellent tragedy with excellent accompaniment, or merely a very good tragedy with incredible accompaniment.

This Swedish tale involves a man who comes to a rural area, starts working for a wealthy widow, and they fall in love. Unfortunately, he’s eventually recognized as an escaped thief from far away, and must escape into the wilderness. She comes with him. They live together happily in the wilds of nature for several years, but it doesn’t last forever. (Actually, considering the Swedish winter, I don’t know how it lasted one year.)

The film is beautifully shot, with a cast of fine actors and charismatic leads. The gorgeous woods, the cruel human society, and the ardent love all play well.

And playing even better was the Matti Bye Ensemble. This quartet, working with traditional and unusual instruments, brought the story up to the level of high tragedy. An amazing experience.

The Last Edition

Not great art, but a hell of a lot more fun than tragic Swedes.

Newly discovered and restored, The Last Edition carries significant historical interest, especially in the Bay Area It was shot on location in San Francisco, much of it at the Chronicle building. In fact, it’s about the Chron.

Unlike most newspaper movies, the protagonist isn’t an editor or a reporter, but a printer. This is a movie that loves the machinery to turns words and photos into massive amounts of paper (and probably won’t do so for very long). Of course there are editors and reporters, one of whom is quite heroic as he hunts down evil bootleggers.

All quite fun.

One technical problem turned up in the screening. An intertitle turned up backwards–reading right to left. The screen quickly went dark, and Stephen Horne continued playing the piano as the projectionist quickly retreated and got the movie going again.

I skipped The Weavers, then came back for…

Safety Last!

I’m not going to discuss this Harold Llyod comedy in detail here. If you want to know what I think about it, see Nail-biting Laughter: My Blu-ray review of Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! I will, however, make one correction to that post, where I claimed that "the final third, where Harold climbs a skyscraper, stands amongst the greatest comic sequences in the history of film." It’s more than that. See it with an audience, and you quickly realize that Safety Last’s third act is the greatest extended comic sequence in the history of cinema.

Before the film started, Festival Artistic Director Anita Monga brought up Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzzanne Lloyd, plus special effects expert Craig Barron, to discuss his life and this film. Barron had created a video (which is in a Blu-ray extra) explaining how the clock sequence was shot. He didn’t show it at the screening, but he announced it’s availability on the Festival web site.

As far as the movie screening, I’ll just say that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that much laughter (my own and other people’s) in one time or place before.

The Monte Alto Motion Picture Orchestra gave Safety Last! a strong and exciting accompaniment, although much of it was overwhelmed by audience laughter. Which, of course, was not a bad thing.