Greatest Hits with the Club Foot Orchestra

I spent most of Saturday at the Castro, where The Club Foot Orchestra accompanied a selection of silent features and shorts. The event was run by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

The Club Foot Orchestra – ten musicians in its current form – calls itself “pioneers of modern music for silent films.” They seem to have a soft spot for the German expressionism of the 1920s, but not an exclusive one.

Saturday, they performed for a set of short American films, followed by three German features. All the films were projected digitally from DCPs. For the most part, they looked great.

Buster + Felix

The sight of children in the audience delighted me. There’s nothing like Buster Keaton to set young minds towards a love of classic cinema.

The shorts:

  • Felix Woos Whoopee: The famous animated cat gets so drunk he suffers from hallucinations. Meanwhile, his angry wife paces at home with her rolling pin.
  • One Week: Newly-weds Buster and Sybil build a house from a kit with disastrous results.
  • The Blacksmith: This is the first time I’ve seen the newly-restored version theatrically. It’s not one of my favorite Keatons; it gets too ridiculous, but it’s fun.
  • Cops: The first Keaton movie I ever saw (in 1972), and still very funny, especially in the second half.

Great music. The synch between visuals and sounds was perfect, and the music almost always hit the right tone.

After the show, I asked a young girl sitting in the row in front of me if she liked the movie. Turned out she knew the films very well; her father was one of the musicians.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The story is conventional – at least until the surprise ending – but the visuals are weird beyond weird. This is probably the most expressionist piece of German Expressionism. In fact, it’s too weird to be truly scary. And yet, it’s clearly a major inspiration for Frankenstein and zombie movies.

Thanks to a recent digital restoration, this was easily the best-looking version of Caligari I’ve ever seen. The images were sharp and the tints glorious. The strange sets and surreal images were all the more powerful with a clear, digital projection on the big screen.

The Club Foot Orchestra was in their surreal element – especially with the wind instruments. When a man is told that he will die before dawn, the clarinet suggested a cry caught in the back of his throat.

As has become common lately with foreign silents, the film was shown with the original German intertitles, supplemented by additional English subtitles. I don’t really like that style. I wish they’d make new English intertitles designed to look like the originals.

Metropolis

I’ve written about this film, and the restoration, in detail, so I won’t say much. It’s a powerful and impressive dystopian sci-fi epic with incredible visuals, interesting characters, and a horribly naïve political message. If you want to read more about my opinion, read my longer report and my Blu-ray review.

Surprisingly, I was disappointed by the score. Most of the time it was good, but not exceptional. And in a couple of scenes, the music seemed horribly wrong.

I saw the Orchestra accompany Metropolis long ago, but that was with Giorgio Moroder’s strange 1984 cut, which was much shorter than this version. Perhaps they had problems stretching it out.

I chose not to see the final film, Nosferatu. I needed to get some sleep. You can read my previous Club Foot Orchestra report, which will tell you about the music, and my Blu-ray review, which will tell you about the digital image quality. Both will tell you about the movie.

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