Silent Film Festival Program Details
The following overview was written by world-class expert on the subject, David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates. It is thanks to his life-long passion for the genre that the Silent Film Festival is made possible.
All programs presented from real film, with live music by virtuoso pianist Frederick Hodges
SATURDAY, MARCH 14th
PETER PAN (1924)
with Betty Bronson, Ernest Torrence, Cyril Chadwick, Virginia Brown Faire, Anna May Wong, Esther Ralston, George Ali, Mary Brian, Philippe de Lacey and Jack Murphy; adapted from Sir James Barrie's fantasy, directed by Herbert Brenon.
Preceded by cartoon, Futuritzky with Felix the Cat (1927)
From The New York Times, December 29, 1924: “That wonderful ecstatic laughter, tinkling and beautiful, just the laughter that Barrie loves to hear, greeted Herbert Brenon's picturized version of Peter Pan yesterday afternoon in the Rivoli. Again and again the silence of the audience was snapped by the ringing laugh of a single boy which was quickly followed by an outburst from dozens of others, some of whom shook in their seats in sheer joy at what they saw upon the screen. It was laughter that reminded one of the days of long ago when one believed in a sort of Never Never Land, when the smiling sun on an early morning made one dance with joy over the dew-covered grass, when the fragrant Spring flowers sent a thrill through one's youthful soul, when one gazed at a real fish in a shallow rippling stream and expected to hook it with a bent pin, when one thought that after all it might be possible to fly…
Obviously inspired by his discussions with Sir James Barrie, Mr. Brenon has fashioned a brilliant and entrancing production of this fantasy, one which is a great credit to the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and also to the whole motion picture industry. It is not a movie, but a pictorial masterpiece which we venture to say will meet the approval of the author. While he has introduced some ideas which were not possible on the stage, Mr. Brenon has not strayed from the theme of the whimsical story” (Added to the National Film Registry, 2000)
HAROLD LLOYD, THE THIRD GENIUS OF SILENT COMEDY
Never Weaken (1921, approx. 25”) and THE FRESHMAN (1925, approx 77”)
The Freshman was Harold Lloyd’s biggest box-office hit, featuring the befuddled everyman at his eager best as a new college student.. This crowd-pleaser is a gleeful showcase for Lloyd’s slapstick brilliance and incandescent charm. Though he dreams of being a big man on campus, the freshman’s careful plans inevitably go hilariously awry, be it on the football field or at the Fall Frolic. But he gets a climactic chance to prove his mettle—and impress the sweet girl he loves—in one of the most famous sports sequences ever filmed. Preceded by Never Weaken (1921), the third of Lloyd’s so-called "thrill comedies," and the last short Lloyd made before concentrating exclusively on feature films. Lloyd's character, "The Boy," is in love with "The Girl," played by Mildred Davis, but he mistakenly believes she loves another. Despondent, he decides to commit suicide, and the rest of Never Weaken involves his unsuccessful attempts to kill himself. His suicide attempts become more and more elaborate, until he ends up on the beams of a high-rise construction site. (“The Freshman” added to the National Film Registry, 1990)
DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS in THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920) (program: 100”)
Douglas Fairbanks was perfectly a man of his time. No other star, ever, has so exemplified what so many Americans wanted to believe were their own traits. 1920’s The Mark of Zorro skillfully blends elements of the Western and the old Fairbanks light comedy roles in an effort to ease the transition to the genre-defining swashbucklers Fairbanks had in mind. Director Fred Niblo, skilled at action sequences, was enlisted to keep the plot moving as nimbly as Fairbanks. Zorro is a dual character, a romantic, avenging aristocrat by night, and a listless, world-weary fop by day. The Mark of Zorro alternates between light romance and thrills: 95 years on, Fairbanks’ stunts and physical exuberance continue to surprise audiences. (Added to the National Film Registry, 2009)
MARION DAVIES and WILLIAM HAINES in SHOW PEOPLE (1928) (78”)
An irresistible comedy-romance about Hollywood moviemaking and celebrity; King Vidor directed Marion Davies, William Haines, a stellar supporting cast, and cameo appearances by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, John Gilbert, Norma Talmadge and other stars of the day. Davies plays Peggy Pepper, a naïve movie aspirant brought from Georgia by her father, “General” Marmaduke Oldfield Pepper. She crashes cheap comedies with Haines’ help, is “discovered,” and as Patricia Pepoire, becomes a big dramatic star with ego to match. Show People is not only an absolute delight but also a loving elegy to silent cinema, which even then was being trampled by the new talking pictures. (Added to the National Film Registry, 2003)
SUNDAY, MARCH 15th
THE PARSON’S WIDOW (Sweden, 1920, by Carl Th. Dreyer)
Voice of the Nightingale (France, 1923, by L. Starewicz) (program approx 100”)
Director Carl Dreyer is best known for his later, weighty films: The Passion of Joan of Arc, Day of Wrath, Ordet, and others; but this charming early work combines good humor and deep humanity. Söfren wants to marry Mari, but Mari's father won't allow it until Söfren is gainfully employed. Söfren wins a competition to become a village parson, but to get the job he must, per custom, marry the parson's widow - a formidable old battleaxe who has already planted a handful of husbands. However, he hopes she will die soon so he can marry his true love, Mari. The story turns from awkward comedy to fairy tale to a touching human drama and affecting character study. Another attraction of this film is its beautiful setting in a rural Scandinavian village of times gone by, with charming wood houses and churches, as well as people and costumes to match. It works -- in spades. The Voice of the Nightingale is a beautifully crafted fable told with a mix of live action and puppets animated one frame at a time, in the early Prizma color process.
FILMS OF 1915 (approx. 150”)
REGENERATION (Raoul Walsh) and THE CHEAT (Cecil B. De Mille)
Regeneration is the first feature in the long directorial career of Raoul Walsh (White Heat), whose marvelously energetic and manly adventures brightened Hollywood's Golden Age. New York gangs have rarely been as realistically depicted as in this vivid, grungy 1915 melodrama. The plot is a stock tale of a hood (Rockliffe Fellowes, who has a true mug's face) reformed by a social worker (Anna Q. Nilsson), but aside from its status as one of the earliest gangster pictures, Walsh got the grime of the slums into the very grain of the photography. He once explained, "I went down around the waterfront and around the docks and into the saloons and got all kinds of gangster types, people with terrible faces, hiding in doorways." You can almost smell the beer slopping out of the pail when the hero (as a boy) brings home his cruel stepfather's alcoholic sustenance from the tavern. --Robert Horton
With The Cheat, Cecil B. DeMille took film a tremendous leap forward with the careful use of art direction and lighting in ways previously unexplored. The Cheat still has the shocking and scandalous feel it did in 1915. What has changed is the modern American attitude toward women and race. Socialite Edith Hardy (Fannie Ward), has foolishly gambled on the stock market and lost charity funds entrusted to her. Afraid to tell her husband, Edith instead borrows the money from a wealthy "Oriental’ (Sessue Hayakawa), with the understanding that he is entitled to certain "privileges". When her husband presents her with an unexpected gift of the same amount, Edith tries to return the loan. He then accuses her of cheating him and physically brands her with a mark signifying she is his property. As film art in 1915, The Cheat is beautifully executed. While it represents a great step forward in the development of motion pictures, it is also a reminder of American society's ugly xenophobic and sexually repressive heritage. (Added to the National Film Registry: Regeneration, 2000; The Cheat, 1993)
BUSTER KEATON in STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (1928), plus
LAUREL & HARDY in Angora Love (1929) (Approx. 92”).
In River Junction, Mississippi (although the film was actually made near Sacramento), William Canfield (Ernest Torrence), better known as "Steamboat Bill," owns a beat-up riverboat called "The Stonewall Jackson." He has a rival, wealthy John James King (Tom Maguire), who attempts to usurp Bill's business with his new river packet called "King" after himself. Canfield receives a telegram that his son Willie, whom he hasn't seen since he was a baby, is arriving in town by train. Excited about the reunion, he is soon disappointed when he finds Canfield Jr. (Buster Keaton) an apparent weakling, sporting checkered clothes and beret, a wispy mustache and a ukulele. Also returning home to River Junction is Mary (Marion Byron), King's daughter, whom Bill Jr. has already met in college. Because Bill and Mary love one another and Canfield and King are rivals, the fathers attempt to keep these two apart.
Keaton’s wonderful gags are pearls on this string of a plot. There are several memorable sequences, although the most astonishing is the climax when a hurricane blows into town. In one stunt – which has since become legendary – Keaton stands willfully still as an entire building wall tumbles down on top of him, his only salvation being the attic window that was carefully calculated to pass over his body. No tricks were employed to pull off this shot; the wall was solid, and Keaton's death would have been very much real were he positioned incorrectly by two inches one way or the other. Reportedly, half of the film's crew walked off the set on the day that this stunt was performed, in case it went horribly wrong and Keaton got killed. As the mammoth wall thunders down upon him and his life hangs in the balance, Keaton doesn't even flinch.
Angora Love is the last silent Laurel & Hardy, released December 14, 1929. Stanley and Oliver are adopted by a runaway goat, Penelope, whose noise and aroma get the goat of their suspicious landlord. Attempts to bathe the smelly animal result in a waterlogged free-for-all!
WINGS: AN EPIC OF THE AIR (1927)
Directed by William A. Wellman, with Richard Arlen, “Buddy” Rogers, Clara Bow. Frederick Hodges will play the original 1927 score by J. S. Zamecnik . Approx. 145”.
Before Wings, no one had attempted a large-scale aviation film. Paramount’s budgeted it at about five times the cost of an average “A” picture of 1927, and sent producer Lucien Hubbard to Washington to seek apparatus and men from the Army. With the approval of President Coolidge, the government supported the production with an additional 86 pilots, 3,500 soldiers, and massive amounts of equipment. The film was shot at an airfield near San Antonio, Texas, between September 7, 1926, and April 7, 1927, long before the days of computer imagery or even process photography; what you will see really happened.
“Wild Bill” Wellman was 29 and a relatively inexperienced director but he was also a decorated World War I flyer and he was determined to achieve what no one else had attempted. Under his direction, cinematographer Harry Perry and a large number of cameramen shot the aerial dogfights from the rear cockpits of a near squadron-worth of camera planes. Even the film’s stars Richard Arlen and “Buddy” Rogers piloted their own planes while controlling mounted, motor-driven cameras that faced them. As insurance, Paramount also found a way to work a love interest into the script for their biggest star, Clara Bow.
The result is stupendous: a smash hit, Wings also won the first-ever Academy Award for best picture; it remains undiminished by the passage of almost ninety years.
(Added to the National Film Registry, 1997)
"Taken together, the ... films in the National Film Registry represent a stunning range of American filmmaking—including Hollywood features, documentaries, avant-garde and amateur productions, films of regional interest, ethnic, animated, and short film subjects—all deserving recognition, preservation and access by future generations. As we begin this new millennium, the registry stands among the finest summations of American cinema's wondrous first century."
All programs feature outstanding live music performed by Frederick Hodges
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