A Weekend of Silents in Early December

Need more silent films in your life – on the big screen with live accompaniment? You’ll find the first weekend of December very satisfying.

First, there’s A Day of Silents, a one-day festival at the Castro on Saturday, December 2. Then, on Sunday, December 3, the Rafael will screen Buster Keaton’s last silent feature, Spite Marriage.

The Day of Silents will present six silent features in a marathon starting at 10:00am and ending some 13 hours later (yes, there will be breaks). I’ve seen three of the six, although none of them recently. I’ll tell you what I can about those three:

The Adventures of Prince Achmed, 10:00AM
Eleven years before Walt Disney made Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Lotte Reiniger used cut-out silhouettes to make what is probably the first animated feature. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen The Adventures of Prince Achmed, but I remember a magical experience.

Philip Carli will provide piano accompaniment. I don’t believe I’ve heard him yet.

Tol’able David, 2:00
I saw this coming-of-age movie on a rented DVD in the early days of DVD rentals. Richard Barthelmess plays David, a young man with some growing up to do in rural America. And yes, he has to prove himself in a big action scene. Directed by Henry King.

Frederick Hodges, one of the regular pianists at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, will provide the music.

Lady Windermere’s Fan, 7:00
Ernst Lubitsch directing an adaption of Oscar Wilde? That sounds nearly perfect! Unfortunately, the movie disappointed me when I saw it on DVD long ago (it’s part of the More Treasures from American Film Archives collection). I found the movie stiff and unfunny. It didn’t even use Wilde’s dialog in the intertitles. Maybe I’ll like it better this time around, when my expectations are considerably lower.

On the other hand, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra will be providing the music, and they’re always enjoyable.

I don’t have much to say about the three movies I haven’t seen, but here’s a quick rundown:

  • The Last Man on Earth (Noon): This science fiction comedy forecasts a future (1954) where the male half of the human race has been wiped out…except for one seemingly lucky man. Philip Carli will provide the music.
  • The Rat (4:30): This British crime thriller, set in Paris, made a big star out of Ivor Novello, who would soon play the lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s breakthrough film, The Lodger. Music by Sascha Jacobsen and the Musical Art Quintet.
  • Sex in Chains: 9:15. The title sounds like an ’80s, straight-to-video exploitation flick, but it’s actually a drama about homosexual behavior in a prison. Wilhelm Dieterle stars and directs; he would later come to Hollywood and direct as William Dieterle. Once again, Philip Carli will handle the music.
The Last Man on Earth.jpg
The Last Man on Earth

If six silent movies on Saturday isn’t enough for you, you can head out to the Rafael on Sunday for a 4:15 screening of Buster Keaton’s last silent movie, Spite Marriage.

I saw Spite Marriage decades ago at the UC Theatre. I really don’t remember it much, but I didn’t think it was one of his best. But then, there’s a lot of room between Buster Keaton at his best and not worth seeing.

Keaton did his best work for independent producer Joseph Schenck, who gave him a very long leash. When Schenck dropped Keaton, the comedian landed at MGM, where the leash got shorter and shorter. I find his MGM talkies (the ones made after Spite Marriage) difficult to watch.

Spite Marriage

But in Spite Marriage, he was still working in the medium he knew best – silent movies – even if he didn’t have the power he once had. The story involves a stage star (Dorothy Sebastian) who marries Buster to make another man jealous.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra will provide live accompaniment.

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