The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is coming back

I love silent movies – especially with live music. I also love the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. You can hear various musical ensembles. People dress for the occasion (well, I don’t). You can take a seat for the whole day, usually next to people you know. Between movies, you can talk to important preservationists like Serge Bromberg and Kevin Brownlow.

And it’s returning after three years.

Okay, I know. I’m supposed to write about the Oscars. I skipped the show. I’ll tell you what I think about them tomorrow.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will return to the Castro Theater (with one event at the Roxie). The festival opens Thursday night, May 5, and closes Wednesday, May 11.

Here are a few presentations that I’m looking forward to:

Steamboat Bill, Jr., Saturday, May 7, 3:00pm

One of Buster Keaton’s best, both as a performer and an auteur. Keaton plays the urbane and somewhat effete son of the very macho Steamboat Bill (Ernest Torrence). A shipload of laughs and amazing stunts, seamlessly integrated into a very good story. I should warn you that there’s one racist joke you’ll have to discuss with your children. I give the movie an A. Musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Rebirth of a Nation, Saturday, May 7, 7:00pm

Imagine taking D.W. Griffith’s important but horribly racist epic, The Birth of a Nation, re-edited, with commentary far away from what Griffith intended. Soon, I won’t have to imagine it. Music and other audio by DJ Spooky and Classical Revolution, with Guenter Buchwald.

Foolish Wives, Thursday, May 5, 7:00pm

Opening Night! The festival starts with Erich von Stroheim’s opulent melodrama. I first saw it at the Filmex festival, in the early 1970s. That was a new restoration – with much of the footage gone. Now we have another restoration, presumably much better. I don’t remember the film enough to recommend it, but it was a big hit in its day. The San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra will accompany the movie.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tuesday, May 10, 7:00pm

When I think of Quasimodo on the tower, desperate for love as he watches the cruelty below him, the first image I think of is Lon Chaney’s brilliant makeup. I haven’t seen it in decades, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra will accompany this film.

Waxworks, Friday, May 6, 9:20
I saw this piece of German expressionism some years ago. The screenplay uses a wax museum to tell three different dark and demented stories. Emil Jannings plays a sultan who wants a baker’s wife. Conrad Veidt performs as the most evil Ivan the Terrible you can imagine. The final story is about Jack the Ripper. Good, gruesome fun. I give the movie a B. Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius will provide the music.

The Great Victorian Moving Picture Show, Saturday, May 7, 1:00pm

A selection of short, historical, very old films from the British Film Institute. Presented by Bryony Dixon, with music by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius.

A Trip to Mars, Sunday, May 8, 9:00pm

I never heard of this Danish movie until now. Astronauts go to Mars and discover a utopia. With live music by Wayne Barker.