Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Silent Film Festival
Returns to the Castro Theater

During the summer, when Hollywood dumps its latest and loudest slate of ear-pounding popcorn movies at the multiplexes, I go out of my way to find alternative cinematic pleasures. Luckily, here in San Francisco the fantastic annual Silent Film Festival unspools at this time of year at the Castro theater.

This year's edition is full of the diverse array of silents we come to expect - from cartoons to classics - and educational discussions with preservationists. As in years past, I expect full houses for many of the evening screenings and enthusiastic movie-lovers at every show.

Of keen interest are two works by directors from abroad.

The first is Yasujiro Ozu's "I Was Born, But... ", which New York Times film critic A.O. Scott described as "a small masterpiece, perfect in design and execution" when it recently enjoyed an extended run at Manhattan's Film Forum.

The plot is thin. Two young brothers join a fun-seeking gang of kids, discover their father makes a fool of himself for his boss, and the boys want him to become the leader of the company where he works. While I've seen many of Ozu's later sound classics, I've never had the pleasure of seeing any of his silents. That will soon change.

This Ozu film screens on Friday, at 4:15 PM, with musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

The second work I'll be sure to watch is "The Nail in the Boot", directed by Mikhail Kalatozov and which was made in Soviet Georgia. Kalatozov went on to make the Russian sound masterpieces "The Cranes are Flying" and "I Am Cuba". The festival program describes the plot:

The first part of the film takes place on a battlefield. A soldier is dispatched to notify divisional headquarters that the armored train is faced with destruction and urgently needs aid. On the way, his foot is injured by a nail sticking out of the sole of his boot, and he fails to reach headquarters in time. The train is lost. The second part of the film is a courtroom enquiry into the action of the protagonist, at which different aspects of the story emerge. ...

The program says the narrative can be confusing, but it surely won't matter much because of Kalatozov's strong sense of visual composition, expressionistic lighting and inventive camerawork. This film plays on Sunday at 4:15 PM, also with musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

What more could we ask for from the Silent Film Festival? Great movies, fabulously restored prints, live music highlighting the action on the silver screen, and it all happens at the great Castro theater motion picture palace.

No comments: