Saturday at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

I saw five feature films Saturday at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and three were about socially unacceptable romances (and yes, they were all heterosexual)..

Lights of Old Broadway
Marion Davies plays identical twins separated at birth, but that’s not what this comedy is really about. It’s a love story set against the Irish immigrants and rich Anglo-Saxons in 19th-century Manhattan. Is it funny? Yes. It’s also sweet and romantic.

I give Lights of Old Broadway a B+.

I have no complaints about the 35mm print, which captured the tints, tones and occasional two-color Technicolor. And Philip Carli gave a fine piano accompaniment.

Hell Bent

This simple, early (1918) John Ford western, starring Harry Carey, suggests the director’s mature work, which over the next half century would define the genre. Carey plays a card shark who goes out on the lam, and proves to be  a decent person when things go wrong. The climactic desert scene shows that Ford was already becoming a master. It was preceded with the two-reel Brownie’s Little Venus, starring Little Peggy (real name Diana Serra Cary), now 101 and the last surviving silent movie star. Well, the real star was the dog.

I give Hell Bent B+. I liked the short, too.

The DCP from Universal, from a new 4K restoration, was just beautiful. So was Philip Carli’s piano accompaniment.

Goona Goona
Another one about forbidden love. This tragedy from Bali puts us into a world and a culture we know little about, and creates a story that can’t end happily. The acting is almost too natural, and the characters are never treated as exotic stereotypes.

I give Goona Goona an A-.

The new DCP, created specifically for this screening by the Library of Congress, is as good as possible considering the sources.

The music by Club Foot Gamelan is the best I’ve heard yet this festival. Two ensembles, Gamelan Sekar Jaya and the Club Foot Orchestra, worked together on this. At one point, a man onscreen plays a Balinese flute, and a Balinese musician in the theater hit it note to note.

L’Homme Du Large

This atmospheric, experimental French film tells the story of a fisherman who wants his only son to follow in his footsteps. But the son, extremely pampered as a child, doesn’t seem to want any kind of work. The filmmakers seem to reaching for some kind of religious epic, but the plot is too simple and pedestrian for that sort of thing. But it is beautiful, both in photography, the rocky ocean, the tints, and the artistic intertitles.

I give L’Homme Du Large a B.

The 35 print, from a new restoration, looked great. But it was Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius’ music on piano and drums that made the movie work, along with Paul McGann’s reading of an English translation of those beautiful titles.

The Wedding March

A deeply sad, occasionally funny story about arranged marriages written, directed, and starring Erich von Stroheim. He plays an aristocrat in debt and he’s a bit too old for the part. His parents, who hate each other, want him to marry a very rich commoner (ZaSu Pitts – a great comic who played serious roles for Stroheim), but he falls in love with a much more common commoner (Fay Wray). The love scenes between these two have way too much gauze on the lens, in a failed attempt to look romantic. It’s not needed, the scenes between von Stroheim and Wray would have been just as romantic if the image was sharp. And if you know your von Stroheim, you won’t be surprised by the ugly parts of society shown in the picture.

I give The Wedding March a B.

The DCP, sourced mostly from the original negative, looks pretty good, except for all that gauze, which was probably von Stroheim’s fault.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra did their usual excellent job.

Once again, and the last time this festival, I’m skipping the late-night film, in this case L’Inferno. But this time, it’s not just for my sleep. Before the festival, I tried to watch it on YouTube. Despite a good print and musical score, it was deeply boring.