Friday, July 16, 2010

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2010 - Opening Night (THE IRON HORSE)

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is held every July at The Castro Theatre and is the largest silent film festival in the country. In its fifteenth year, the festival expands to four days and eighteen programs, July 15 - 18, 2010. Ticket information is available here:

The 15th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival (marquee photo by JimmyD) launched one of its most exciting years of programming with a definite understatement tonight. Though the house was pretty full, there wasn't the 'sold out buzz' that accompanies these events, as it was solidly three-quarters full, and started exactly on time. SF Silent Film Festival Board President, Judy Wyler Sheldon, gave the preface of acknowledgments to sponsors, staff, members and volunteers, and spoke only briefly about the programming for the rest of the weekend. She then introduced the speaker, or in this case, lecturer (whose name I did NOT catch! Must make better notes!), who proceeded to basically read the program notes to us, with a couple inserted anecdotes. (So desolate was the location in Nevada that the production provided a bordello for the crew!). His presentation, sitting in front of the theatre as if we were a class was both quirky and underwhelming. He also had the privilege of introducing the musician for the evening: Dennis James, who would be accompanying the film at the Mighty Wurlitzer!

THE IRON HORSE (dir. John Ford, 1924, US, 150 mins.) John Ford sort of had a Werner Herzog moment and dragged 400 cast and crewmembers into the Nevada desert to recreate the completion of the Transcontinental Railway, connecting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific rail lines. (Conditions were so extreme during the winter that a crew member died of pneumonia.) The spectacle of this army actually building a railroad does get a little lost in the obligatory, slow pacing of such a feat.  However, John Ford filled his cast with some quirky Western archetypes to keep subplots juggling. He cast a pair of gorgeous young lovers-to-be, who are caught on two sides of the animosity of invading the West in George O'Brien and Madge Bellamy. They are ably set against a two fingered murderer and a foppish engineering bureaucrat. They perform simply and are great to just look at in close-up.  Ford also has a trio of "clowns" and just to ratchet up the patriotism, a pair of presidential look-a-likes. Oh, and for the "effusively politically correct", you would have to look past his casting of "injuns and chinamen."

The print was in fairly good condition, though it did require a "brief intermission" between reels at one point. (A footer break?) Dennis James was also the tiniest bit off, either from the print or it may have been the first time out of all the hours I've seen him perform with such majestic perfection, that when he hit a wrong chord, there was a "plop" out there at one point. The film's pacing doesn't help him either, as only various Indian attacks break the dirge of the building of the rails.  I think the low key audience was also relatively restless, exemplified by the woman kicking the back of my chair and the man next to me who NEEDED TO FAN himself, in the 60 degree Castro Theatre.

The film was followed by a pleasant little reception sponsored by McRowsky's and catered by Poesia Restaurant.  I am hoping that this "early opening" (this is the first year that the festival started on a Thursday night), is just the low key prelude to an incredible weekend!  Friday (aka Metropolis night!) should be insane!

Maxxxxx says re George O'Brien: "Such a pretty bird!"

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

1 comment:

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