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San Francisco Silent Film Festival: Rare Oldies

The Fall of the House of Usher Jean Epstein
John Gilbert Eleanor Boardman Bardelys the Magnificent
Douglas Fairbanks Lupe Velez The Gaucho
The Fall of the House of Usher (top); John Gilbert, Eleanor Boardman in Bardelys the Magnificent (middle); Douglas Fairbanks, Lupe Velez in The Gaucho (bottom)


Douglas Fairbanks The GauchoDouglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, and Lillian Gish are only a few of the superstars to be found at the 14th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which will take place July 10-12 at the Castro Theatre. Among those scheduled to provide musical accompaniment to the on-screen action are the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Philip Carli, Stephen Horne, Dennis James, and Donald Sosin.
Among the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s highlights are:

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

The Gaucho (1927), an adventure tale involving faith and redemption, starring Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Velez in her first important film role.

“A daring departure,” is how Jeffrey Vance describes The Gaucho in Douglas Fairbanks. “The film is an effort of unanticipated darkness in tone, setting, and character. The spirit of adolescent boyish adventure, the omnipresent characteristic of his prior films, is noticeably absent. It has been replaced by a spiritual fervor and an element of seething sexuality the likes of which had never been seen before in one of his productions. No boy scout here, Fairbanks drinks, smokes, and acts upon his carnal desires with a lascivious glee that would make the Black Pirate blush in Technicolor.”

The Mont Alto Orchestra will premiere its new original score – written expressly for the occasion – to accompany The Gaucho.

Mont Alto will also provide the music for the West Coast Premiere of the restored King Vidor costumer Bardelys the Magnificent (1926). Until recently thought lost, Bardelys the Magnificent was one of John Gilbert’s numerous popular MGM vehicles of the ’20s. The lovely and talented Eleanor Boardman, best known for her performance in (future husband) Vidor’s The Crowd, is Gilbert’s leading lady.

Pianist Stephen Horne of London’s National Film Theatre will accompany Jean Epstein’s surrealist The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), in which Epstein was assisted by none other than Luis Buñuel. Marguerite Gance, filmmaker Abel Gance’s wife, is the film’s leading lady. Horne will also provide the music for Josef von Sternberg’s crime classic Underworld (1927), starring Clive Brook, George Bancroft, and Evelyn Brent.

Lillian Gish in The Wind

Additionally, Dennis James will premiere his original score for Victor Sjöström’s gripping The Wind (1928), in which Lillian Gish delivers what could well be the best performance of her long (70+ years) career. Lars Hanson co-stars in this haunting tale set in the desolate (and windy) American frontier. As a plus, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation will include a “special wind effect” of the kind used in silent movie scores in the 1920s.

Starring Jin Yan, which the festival’s press release describes as “the Valentino of China,” and directed by Su Yun, the Chinese social drama-cum-romance Wild Rose (1932) will be accompanied by Donald Sosin. Yan’s widow, veteran actress Qin Yi, will introduce the program.

Erotikon by Gustav Machaty

Gustav Machatý’s Erotikon (1929), the tale of a young woman (Ita Rina) who does it with the wrong guy, caused a furor at the time because of its portrayal of on-screen sex (basically close-ups of Rina’s face delirious with pleasure). Machatý, by the way, is the man behind Hedy Lamarr’s even more scandalous Ecstasy (1933).

Also at the festival:

  • a matinee featuring the Disney character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (1927-28), presented by Leonard Maltin and Leslie Iwerks (Disney animator Ub Iwerks’ daughter);
  • Gregory La Cava’s comedy So’s Your Old Man (1926), with W.C. Fields and one of the best actresses of the silent era, Alice Joyce;
  • D.W. Griffith’s unbridled melodrama Lady of the Pavements (1929), starring Lupe Velez;
  • several shorts featuring Mary Pickford, whose first film appearance took place 100 years ago;
  • a trailer of the lost Constance Talmadge vehicle Polly of the Follies (1917);
  • a restored installment of the Screen Snapshots series, featuring Ramon Novarro and Clara Bow, among others;
  • and last but definitely not least, Yakov Protazanov’s Soviet futurist drama Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924).

For the complete program information and to buy tickets, go to

Photos: Courtesy of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

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