You don’t have to wait long to watch a movie with live accompaniment these days – and I’m not talking about Star Wars with the San Francisco Symphony. Here are two local silent film festivals coming up, from the two major silent film organizations in the Bay Area.
Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
August 10 – 12
In the early days of motion pictures, Broncho Billy Anderson (real name: Max Aronson) co-founded the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. He produced and starred in a string of short westerns shot in Niles (now a neighborhood in Fremont). And that’s why the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum names its annual festival after Broncho Billy – the original Jewish cowboy.
Broncho Billy Anderson and his filmmaking team
This year’s festival will start Friday night with a selection of Max Linder comedies. Largely forgotten today, Linder, a Frenchman who worked on both sides of the Atlantic, was probably the first comedian to become a movie star. Chaplin considered him a major influence. Among the seven shorts screened are Max Juggler Par Amour, Le Soulier Trop Petit, Troubles of a Grasswidower, and Au Secours! David Drazin will provide piano accompaniment.
Sunday afternoon, Gary Meyer, a major fixture in the Bay Area movie scene, will discuss Heroes and Villains: Film Collectors and Movie Pirates. Those who collected film prints in the days before home video broke the law, and were often prosecuted, but they also did us a great service, preserving films that went unprotected by the rightful owners.
Max Linder in Le Soulier Trop Petit
Other events include:
- Early 3-D films
- A selection of short Essanay films
- Movies projected on 28mm film
- A discussion on early Tarzan movies
Greatest Hits with the Club Foot Orchestra
The Club Foot Orchestra was the first small ensemble I ever heard accompanying silent films, back in the 1980s. Club Foot mostly accompanied the more surreal silent films, especially from the German Expressionist movement. Then they sort of disappeared, and eventually came back.
On Saturday, September 15, The Club Foot Orchestra will return to the Castro to play three features and a selection of shorts, and yes, the features are all German. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is sponsoring the event.
All of the films will be projected digitally from DCPs. I know that will anger a lot of people, but not me. The DCPs are all from Kino and Lobster – companies that care about quality. Besides, the last time I saw The Club Foot Orchestra, the 35mm print of Noseratu looked horrible.
Here’s what’s showing:
A Buster + Felix, 1:00
Buster Keaton dominates this collection of shorts, as it should be. The Keaton titles, One Week, The Blacksmith, and Cops, are all hilarious – especially One Week. In Felix Woos Whoopie, the famous animated cat drinks too much and suffers some very weird side effects.
B The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 3:15
This important piece of German expressionism is an easier film to admire than to like. The story is very conventional–at least until the end. But visually speaking, this must be one of the weirdest commercial films ever made. It’s strange design and way over-the-top acting keeps the audience at arms-length. The constant intensity can be exhausting. But the atmosphere can also have a powerful hold.
A Metropolis, 6:00
The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch, and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know them through the countless films it influenced. Recently-discovered footage, which restores it to something very much like the original cut, elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report and my Blu-ray review.
A Nosferatu, 9:30
Forget about sexy vampires; the first film version of Dracula (an unauthorized rip-off that got the filmmakers into legal trouble) doesn’t have one. Max Schreck plays Count “Orlok” as a reptilian predator in vaguely human form. This isn’t the scariest monster movie ever made, but it’s probably the creepiest. Not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake. Read my Blu-ray review.