Sunday, July 18, 2010

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2010 - Day 3 (aka I AM Harry Langdon!)

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:

Still coming through the exhaustive experience of the previous night's METROPOLIS, I attended only two of the six programs today. The first being a panel made up of members from each of the festival musicians, each of whom explained their craft and ideology in performing with silent films.  In summary: Dennis James ("the Master of the Mighty Wurlitzer") was by far the self proclaimed purist. He researches for the complete score and then the music of the period, then uses details from the film to fill in what might be missing. Donald Sosin (pianist) is just a step left of this, in that his method relies on a lot of preparation and analysis of the film, though he is not as much of a purist as far as material.  The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra prepares scores with pieces from the period, usually stringing together a program of "quotes" that they feel is as purist as a small ensemble can become during a performance.  The Matti Bye Ensemble prepares original material based upon a thorough dissection of the film and the nuances of the characters within it. Stephen Horne (pianist and some winds) likes to improvise and I have always found his style to be impressionistic; almost Satie- like. The Alloy Orchestra feels they are the "bad boys" of the business as anything goes for them and they LOVE to improvise, even beyond their prepared scores.  The group was moderated by Chloe Veltman, however her questions were so open and vague that the musicians had a hard time answering. She opened it up to an audience Q&A, but, frankly, that scared me and I left for a break.

The next program I attended was introduced by Stacey Wisnia, who presented the SF Silent Film Festival Preservation Award (I need to check that!) to Photoplay Productions, which was represented by (apparent silent film aficionado icons) Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury.  (They received a standing ovation!) Brownlow gave a lovely acceptance speech and introduced THE STRONG MAN. 

I have found the spirit that has unknowingly haunted me until now: Harry Langdon, in THE STRONG MAN (dir. Frank Capra, US, 1926, 76 mins.)  I am Harry Langdon!  I almost could not laugh at the foibles and bits performed, for I was just seeing too much of ME in it to enjoy it!  I used to LIVE to perform that kind of hysterical-deadpan!  Even with the mutated frame-rate, his timing was precious. (He had a short lived career, having committed suicide, but I must do more research!) The plot is a bit more slapstick bound than one expects from Frank Capra, but there is still a moral of course.  Stephen Horne's accompaniment was not as "moving" as I am used to hearing from him, but then I was surprised that he was playing for a comedy.

The festival was beginning to run late at this point, and though I intended to return for the late show HAXAN: Witchcraft Through the Ages, it was reportedly running over 45 minutes late, so I am sort of glad I passed and stayed home.  Which leads me to my one qualm with the festival:  It is a bit like a convention, as far as making the extra time for book signings and merchandising in the mezzanine area.  Even though there is a solid hour slotted between programs for this, the festival was still running nearly an hour behind by the end of each night.  This might also be due to the complicated sound checks as the performers are setting up?  I don't know. I just think the timing is the one thing that would snap the event together.

Maxxxxx says re THE STRONG MAN:  "I'm Maxxxxxx!"

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


Akanksha said...
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watch movies said...

hmmm..I can guess you people enjoyed there. I missed it due to some my office work. Do you have some videos for it. I am quite interested in watching this film festival.