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SFSFF Movies: Rare Ukrainian Satire + Silent Shakespeare

Ukrainian movie Pigs Will Be Pigs SFSFFPigs Will Be Pigs movie image: One of the highlights at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) is the presentation of a rare Ukrainian/Soviet satire directed by the now largely forgotten Khanan Shmain, who had a brief film career in the early 1930s.
  • Below is a brief overview of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s July 15 presentations: Three Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy shorts, plus the international features The Organist at St. Vitus Cathedral, Crainquebille, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Pigs Will Be Pigs, and Walk Cheerfully.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) dedicates a whole day to international features – including a Ukrainian comedy – while directors include Jacques Feyder and Yasujiro Ozu

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

This year’s edition of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) continues on July 15 at the Castro Theatre, with the screening of three Laurel and Hardy shorts, and five international features: The Organist at St. Vitus Cathedral from Czechoslovakia, Crainquebille from France, A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Germany, Pigs Will Be Pigs from Ukraine, and Walk Cheerfully from Japan.

Among the day’s notable directors are Jacques Feyder, who would spend a few years at MGM guiding Greta Garbo (The Kiss) and Ramon Novarro (Son of India, Daybreak), and Yasujiro Ozu in the early period of his long and prestigious career.

Besides Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, big-name stars include Hans Albers (The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen) and Werner Krauss (the landmark The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the reviled Jud Süß).

Each show will have live music accompaniment by Günter Buchwald, Frank Bockius, the Sascha Jacobsen Quartet, and others.

Immediately below is a brief overview of SFSFF’s July 15 titles. (See the day’s full schedule further down.)

Stan & Ollie (1927)

SFSFF will be showcasing three Laurel and Hardy shorts: Fred Guiol’s The Second 100 Years (1927), Frank Butler’s Flying Elephants (1928), and Clyde Bruckman’s The Battle of the Century (1927).

Live music by Wayne Barker and sound effects by Nicholas White.

The Organist at St. Vitus’ Cathedral (1929)

The story of an organist being blackmailed by a shoeshiner – it’s not supposed to be funny – Martin Fric’s The Organist at St. Vitus’ Cathedral stars Karel Hašler, known in Czechoslovakia (and possibly surrounding countries) for his musical compositions and cabaret singing.

About a decade later, during the Nazi occupation, Hašler penned anti-German lyrics that led to his arrest by the Gestapo. He died at age 62 in December 1941 at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

Crainquebille (1922)

Based on a novella by Anatole France, Jacques Feyder’s Crainquebille chronicles the travails of the titular peddler (played by Comédie-Française veteran Maurice de Féraudy), whose life is turned upside down after he spends time in jail as a result of a gross misunderstanding.

An aside: Maurice de Féraudy wrote the lyrics for the 1905 classic “Fascination.”

With the support of the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée), Lobster Films restored Crainquebille in 2019. If online sources are to be believed, the restoration is about 15 minutes shorter than the 90-minute original, and French cinema and stage grand dame Françoise Rosay (Feyder’s wife from 1917 to his death in 1948) has an undetermined supporting role in the film.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1925 Valeska Gert SFSFFA Midsummer Night’s Dream with Valeska Gert: SFSFF will screen a new restoration of Hans Neumann’s unusual adaptation of Shakespeare’s mix of farce and fantasy.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1925)

Directed by Hans Neumann, who also cowrote the screenplay with Hans Behrendt (who would perish at Auschwitz in 1942), this silent A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as per online sources, weirdly titled Wood Love in the United Kingdom) is a loose, long-thought-lost adaptation of William Shakespeare’s farce/fantasy first staged in 1598.

Now, how loose is “loose”?

Well, Oberon and Puck are, respectively, played by Russian-born ballerina Tamara Geva and dancer/cabaret artist Valeska Gert; every so often, the actors step out of their roles; and Theseus (Theodor Becker) uses a telephone.

The lovers are played by German cinema icon Hans Albers (Demetrius), Charlotte Ander (Hermia), André Mattoni (Lysander), and Barbara von Annenkoff (Helena). Bottom is played by veteran Werner Krauss, renowned for his screen portrayals of classic and historical characters (Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Sir William Hamilton in Lady Hamilton, etc.).

A joint collaboration between the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, this new restoration of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is from a nitrate print of the (shortened) North American version, found buried under a cellar in Oregon in 2010, in addition to fragments previously preserved at the German National Archives.

Pigs Will Be Pigs (1931)

Alexander Dovzhenko (Arsenal, Earth) notwithstanding, Ukraine isn’t known for its cinema, as local productions – especially those centering on pregnant guinea pigs – have only seldom been presented outside either Ukraine or the former Soviet Union. Thus, SFSFF’s showing of screenwriter-director Khanan Shmain’s satire Pigs Will Be Pigs has that extra element of interest, in addition to the fact that it was banned in Nazi Germany.

There’s more: As found in Anna Toropova’s Feeling Revolution: Cinema, Genre, and the Politics of Affect Under Stalin, Shmain – the director of a mere three features in the 1930s – was one of several Soviet filmmakers “criticized for continuing the ‘primitive’ tradition of Mack Sennett and [for] striving to create a ‘Soviet comic film’ rather than a ‘Soviet comedy.’”

Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the “Soviet comic film” Pigs Will Be Pigs was long believed lost. About eight years ago, a print was discovered at the German National Archives and was later transferred to the Alexander Dovzhenko National Film Archive in Kyiv.

Walk Cheerfully (1930)

Walk Cheerfully is Yasujiro Ozu’s homage to Hollywood crime movies of the silent era. The simple story follows a small-time gangster, Ken the Knife, who decides to go straight after falling in love with a nice girl.

As the gangster and the girl, Minoru Takada and Hiroko Kawasaki are featured in roles that would have gone to James Cagney and Loretta Young at Warner Bros in the early 1930s.

See below SFSFF’s July 15 schedule.

SFSFF schedule – July 15

Stan & Ollie | 15 Jul at 11:00 AM
Three Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy shorts: The Second 100 Years (1927), Flying Elephants (1928), and The Battle of the Century (1927).
Live music by Wayne Barker with sound effects by Nicholas White

A Midsummer Night’s Dream / Ein Sommernachtstraum (1925) | 15 Jul at 1:00 PM
Director: Hans Neumann.
Cast: Hans Albers, Charlotte Ander, Barbara von Annenkoff, André Mattoni, Werner Krauss, Tamara Geva, Valeska Gert, Theodor Becker.
Live music by the Sascha Jacobsen Quartet

The Organist at St. Vitus’ Cathedral / Varhaník u sv. Víta (1929) | 15 Jul at 3:00 PM
Director: Martin Fric.
Cast: Karel Hašler, Suzanne Marwille, Oscar Marion.
Live music by Maud Nelissen

Pigs Will Be Pigs / Stantsiya Pupki (1931) | 15 Jul at 5:00 PM
Director: Khanan Shmain.
Cast: Konstantin Garin, Ivan Tverdokhlib, Mariya Maksakova, Borys Bezhin.
Live music by Günter Buchwald and Frank Bockius

Crainquebille (1922) | 15 Jul at 7:00 PM
Director: Jacques Feyder
Cast: Maurice de Féraudy, Félix Oudart, Jean Forest, Marguerite Carré.
Live music by the Stephen Horne Ensemble

Walk Cheerfully / Hogaraka ni ayume(1930) | 15 Jul at 9:00 PM
Director: Yasujiro Ozu.
Cast: Minoru Takada, Hiroko Kawasaki, Nobuko Matsuzono.
Live music by Utsav Lal

“SFSFF Movies: Rare Ukrainian Satire + Silent Shakespeare” notes

San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) website.

See also: SFSFF showcases a young Norma Shearer and an elegiac Douglas Fairbanks; SFSFF revisits Fitzgerald’s muse and a ‘haunted house’ comedy; SFSFF wraps up with a blockbuster silent “operetta.”

Images from Pigs Will Be Pigs and of Valeska Gert in A Midsummer Night’s Dream via the SFSFF site.

“SFSFF Movies: Rare Ukrainian Satire + Silent Shakespeare” last updated in September 2023.

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