Saturday, July 19, 2008

San Francisco Silent Film Festival 2008: A Series of Introductions, A Question of Communion.

by Ryland Walker Knight

unknown embrace

[Update (7/22/08): article can be found here.]

The piece should be up at The House Next Door by now but my school work kept me occupied during the week and a big tentpole picture got in the way (took precedence?) here at the week's end. Luckily, a lot of my fellow Bay Area bloggers have covered the festival already (see below). I just hope my belated wrap up can serve as a nice, final grace note. It was a heck of a weekend. I really dug it, even though I missed a number of the fims. I look forward to attending next year provided I'm still in the Bay (which Allison bet me will be the case). The highlight of the weekend, I must confess, was meeting and hanging out with Girish Shambu and Darren Hughes, who Michael "Maya" Guillen was hosting. We skipped the Saturday night showing of The Man Who Laughs (which I want to watch soon thanks to Michael's recent posts and that big tentpole picture's allusions) to enjoy a leisurely dinner and good, old-fashioned cinephile jibber jabber.

One film I did not mention in my House piece is the short that preceded Jujiro: a nine minute color film called Kaleidoscope from 1925. I wish I'd gone pirate style and videotaped it. Not that my digital camera would do it justice. Part of the power was how big it felt up there on the Castro's wonderful screen. Plus, it reminded me of Painlevé's Liquid Crystals*. All it was: color plates shifting in space, cut up by mirrors and edits, merging and splitting and washing into a huge affective pool of light. I could have watched that forever. (Especially if Yo La Tengo had scored this one; although I quite dug what Stephen Horne provided on piano.) I guess my next venture should be into the avant guarde. Like, for real. Any suggestions on where to start with that?


[A link dump for all the local coverage I've come across.]

At The Evening Class:
At Hell on Frisco Bay:

At Six Martinis and the Seventh Art:

At Dan's Movie Blog:


Outside the Bay, Girish and Darren have logged some posts. Go read them. Girish has a more general overview with a few nuggets of recap while Darren looks at Tod Browning's The Unknown.


Tonight I'm off to the PFA to catch Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life. It'll be my first Ray outside of Rebel Without A Cause and King of Kings. It doesn't sound like the cheeriest film (this weekend's offerings are quite the opposite of sunny, hence the Reygadas detour this morning), but it's not on Netflix, nor is it available on campus, so I gotsta go. One of the things the SFSFF really did for me was to reactivate my cinephilia. I may not be able to afford to attend everything I want to see in theatres but last weekend and yesterday's screening proved that watching movies big (and loud) in the dark is a lot different than at home with a lamp on and the internet calling out "Look at me!" I think it almost mandatory for any, um, true cinephile routine (to go along with Nathan Lee's list of other shit to do as well, like reading and eating and talking to people). And, maybe most important, it's a lot more fun.

* = That's the picture; that post is almost painful (chuckle) to read, but it still warms me.


  1. Eager to see the House article when it gets put up! In the meantime, great linkage! Thanks for including me. Hopefully there will be a follow-up in the next week or so.

    I was stunned by Kaleidoscope. I'd love to learn more about its production history, though the remarks from the stage seemed to imply that there's not much of anything documented. In lieu of that, perhaps I can at least try to find out the circumstances of its (re)discovery.

    As to investigating the avant-garde, why not start with Dog Star Man, playing at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts next month? Might as well climb Mount Everest if there's an opportunity...

  2. Oh, and we'll have to talk about Bigger Than Life sometime once you've come back from it. One of my favorites, and I'm a bit sad I'm missing it.

  3. Of course, Brian: your enthusiasm was the main reason I thought of attending! And it proved most worthwhile. I'm quite grateful.

    Brakhage, eh? I keep thinking about it and not doing it. SO, yes, I accept this challenge.

    I kind of loved _Bigger Than Life_. Makes me think, while shaking a fist at the ether, gee, they don't make 'em like that any more. As with the silent films, though, the crowd reaction was curious. I'm guilty, too, as I failed to stifle one noticeable guffaw at something Mason says during the big shadow lesson scene but, what I mean is: what's with all this 'tude? Just because a film bears its history does not make it quaint. That's condescending. There's real stuff happening in Ed's dementia. One could argue that melodrama isn't completely dead in Hollywood (as evidenced by this weekend's Batmania) but it's this kind of melodrama that I think gets lost today with all the distractions that irony can provide. (_The Dark Knight_ understands hyperbole but I don't know if it understands melodrama as things teeter on corny throughout, although I dig how big the film shoots/dreams.) But back to Ray: the real highlight of the piece, as I see it, is that climactic day after church. So rich. I'd like to say more but I feel my energy waning. Maybe we can continue this in person -- failing that, there's this thread -- because right now all I want to do is eat a snack, brush my teeth and read bit before I get some sleep. Hopefully I won't dream about scissors or too much red or a circus of warped ubermensch platitudes crashing through banisters and tumbling over couches. Hopefully I will dream about what makes my utopia. However, even those dreams sour sometimes. Guess that's what makes Batmania possible. That and Heath Ledger.

  4. One final thought: it seems like M Night Shyamalan is after this kind of melodrama but he's just off target usually, because of other concerns. I will say that I still dig _Unbreakable_ and most of _Signs_, but when you get down to it _The Happening_ is pretty silly, straight up.

  5. Thanks for the shout-outs, Ryland. I enjoyed discussing Bigger Than Life on the way to the BART. This was my third viewing. I had first seen it on TCM as one of the guest programmer selections, then at the Castro, now at PFA.

    Though the side effects of cortisone have been somewhat subsumed by the public debate on steroids in general, and though the audience was more willing to ironize than empathize, its never untimely to consider the side effects of so-called "miracle drugs": "The pills give you brand new ills and the bills bury you like an avalanche," Joni Mitchell cautioned not so many years ago.

    It had slipped my mind that you, Girish and Darren had ducked out of SFSFF's screening of The Man Who Laughs. Too bad, primarily for missing Clark Wilson's incredible organ accompaniment, though the entire film is available on YouTube for narrative purposes at least.

  6. Naturally, naturally, Michael. Thanks again for the ticket to _The Red and the White_. It was a treat. A nice balance to the weekend that began with _The Dark Knight_.