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San Francisco Silent Film Festival's July Program of Classics Stars Brooks, Garbo, Fairbanks and Films by Pabst, McCay, Ozu and More

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood May 23, 2013 at 11:17PM

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival ticks all of my boxes when it comes to enjoyable filmgoing experiences: it's brilliantly programmed, takes place in a dazzling and comfortable setting, unspools over a compact and encompassable time span, and has a respectful and joyous audience that enriches the experience. And (bonus) it's located in a neighborhood full of enticing and affordable eateries.
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Louise Brooks in 'Prix de Beaute'
Louise Brooks in 'Prix de Beaute'

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival ticks all of my boxes when it comes to enjoyable filmgoing experiences: it's brilliantly programmed, takes place in a dazzling and comfortable setting, unspools over a compact and encompassable time span, and has a respectful and joyous audience that enriches the experience.  And (bonus) it's located in a neighborhood full of enticing and affordable eateries.

'First Born'
'First Born'

It's also value for money: for $210, you get a pass to the entire festival, which includes 16 different programs, each featuring live music, ranging from the celebrated English pianist Stephen Horne (a Pordenone regular) to the Matti Bye Ensemble from Sweden, with appearances by the famed Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, as well as other musicians suited for the occasion.  I learned a long time ago to attend every program, because even if I'd seen the movie in question before, the live music made it a unique, and uniquely appealing, experience, especially in the 1922-vintage, well-kept Castro Theatre.

The program for this summer's extravaganza, the 18th edition (July 18 -- 21) is a thoughtful blend of rarities and more familiar movies.  It opens on Thursday, July 18th, with the Cineteca di Bolgna's newly-restored silent version of Louise Brook's last starring role in G.W. Pabst's "Prix de Beaute" (in the less-successful sound version, Brooks' voice was dubbed). 

Douglas Fairbanks in 'The Half-Breed'
Douglas Fairbanks in 'The Half-Breed'


On Friday, the 19th, there's a free program entitled "Amazing Tales from the Archive," in which Celine Ruivo of the Cinematheque Francaise will discuss the restoration (in partnership with SFSFF) of a Douglas Fairbanks film,"The Half-Breed,"  previously considered lost, which will premiere on Saturday. Friday's four eclectic programs include the British directorial debut of Miles Mander, "The First Born," starring Madeleine Carroll and John Loder; "Tokyo Chorus," an affecting comedy/drama by Yasujiro Ozu; King Vidor's "Cinderella fable for the Jazz Age" "The Patsy," starring Marion Davies; and "The Golden Clown," "considered one of the great masterpieces of Danish silent cinema," according to the program book, but almost entirely new to me -- I've only seen its star, Gosta Eckman, thanks to his appearance in Murnau's "Faust," which coincidentally the SFSFF showed at its winter event this past February, and this may very well be the first of director A.W. Sandberg's titles I've ever seen.

Ozu's 'Tokyo Chorus'
Ozu's 'Tokyo Chorus'


Saturday, the 20th begins with a kid-friendly program dedicated to Winsor McCay, including an illustrated presentation by McCay biographer John Canemaker and screenings of four of McCay's films, including "Little Nemo" and "Gertie the Dinosaur."  Douglas Fairbanks in "The Half-Breed," directed by Allan Dwan, premieres next. "Legong: Dance of the Virgins," an ethnographic love-and-sex-story oddity shot in Bali in two-strip Technicolor by the Marquis Henri de la Falaise (better known as husband to Gloria Swanson and Constance Bennett) will be accompanied by Balinese gamelan ensemble Gamelan Sekar Jaya, as well as the Club Foot Orchestra. 

This article is related to: Festivals, Alfred Hitchcock


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.