Tuesday, May 27, 2008

San Francisco

Generously offering to be my host, Michael "Maya" Guillen has invited me to San Francisco to attend the SF Silent Film Festival in a few weeks. I haven't visited the Bay Area in many years, and I'm excited not just to see the films but also to meet up with all the San Fransiscan bloggers and cinephiles I've been reading for ages now.

The festival is showing: Mikael (by Dreyer; the only film at the festival I've seen), The Unknown (Tod Browning), The Kid Brother (Harold Lloyd), The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Les Deux Timides, The Man Who Laughs, The Soul of Youth, The Silent Enemy, Her Wild Oat, Jujiro(Crossways), and The Patsy.

Any suggestions or thoughts about the films, the festival, or cinema hotspots in the city? They're most welcome.

* * *


-- Here's a spot of Cannes coverage by Christoph Huber, Mark Peranson and Kent Jones at Quintin and Flavia de Fuente's blog, La Lectora Provisoria. Also: more from Kent Jones at Dave Kehr's blog.

-- Glenn Kenny on the Cannes awards.

-- David Bordwell blogs "some cuts I have known and loved."

-- Michael Newman at Zigzigger: "After four semesters now, I have collected some ideas about how a class blog works and doesn’t work that I thought would be worth sharing."

-- Edwin Mak at Faster Than Instant Noodles on Jia Zhang-ke's new film, 24 City.

pics: Dreyer's Mikael.


Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I liked The Man who Laughs. As for The Unknown, you get to see Joan Crawford when she was still cute. I saw the film at MoMA many years ago. The ending is truly horrifying.

The Thai restaurant across the street from the Castro Theater is pretty good.

May 27, 2008 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Her Wild Oat was thought lost. Thank goodness we got it back. Here's my review of it: http://ferdyonfilms.com/2007/10/her-wild-oat-1927.php.

Agree about The Unknown - a horrifying film with Chaney at his best.

The Kid Brother is perhaps my favorite Harold Lloyd film. He's really sweet in it but still pulls off some daring stunts.

That's about all the help I can offer.

May 27, 2008 10:42 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

I've seen the Adventures of Prince Achmed (it's great, but I think does drag on a bit), but none of the others. I'll try to be going to the festival barring work emergencies, but I do try not to have too many silents following one after another. The Blue Restaurant around the corner from the Castro Theater is pretty good, and serves bottomless strawberry lemonade.

May 27, 2008 12:22 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter, I've read that Joan Crawford had quite a lot of plastic surgery performed in the late 1920s/early 1930s. (Apparently, quite a painful process in those days). Her sucked-in cheeks and sunken, gaunt face in Grand Hotel (they say) bear the marks of all that work.

Marilyn, Her Wild Oat (what a great title) sounds like a must-see. The hair style Colleen Moore sports is crying to come back into vogue. (The closest I can think of is Sabine Azema in some of the recent Resnais films.)

Alex, those multiple screenings back-to-back may prove to be a challenge. I've never done anything quite like it before. Perhaps Michael or Brian or other silent film vets can share their experience on the festival. I'm not sure if I should be aiming to see everything or judiciously picking and choosing.

May 27, 2008 1:46 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Here's Christina Ricci from the latest issue of Movie Maker sporting the Moore do: http://tinyurl.com/4xfh3h

BTW, I saw Ricci this weekend in Black Snake Moan and was shocked at how skinny she's gotten. She used to look healthy...

May 27, 2008 1:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I saw a YouTube interview clip about Speed Racer with Ricci in which she sported the same do.

May 27, 2008 2:03 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - The Kid Brother is definitely one of the best Lloyd features, and perhaps the archetypal one. The Unknown mostly just creeps me out. Les Deux Timides isn't my favorite Clair silent comedy (and I'm not even a huge fan), though the ending perks up a bit. The Man Who Laughs will make a logical double bill with The Unknown - it struck me as a museum piece when I saw it. The Patsy is lively, maybe not a great comedy, but appealing. Of the ones I haven't seen, I'd like to catch Her Wild Oat - Neilan had talent, though his best films may have come earlier than this. Prince Achmed just got a very affectionate review in Cahiers.

May 27, 2008 3:01 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Girish -- So gratifying to see your comment at my page, as I've been a longtime reader&admirer. Glad to know you're voyaging west for the silents. I'm sure the other reps will have something to offer you during your stay, but in the meantime... Playtime in 70mm if you sneak out a day early.

May 27, 2008 4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I envy your going to Vertigo country. But don't miss The Unknown, for me Browning's best silent, and a great love story I've seen lots of time. Also, his best use of space, only surpassed by The Devil-Doll. The Man Who Laughs is impressive, Leni's best by far and one of the great summits of the silent cinema. The Kid Brother I think is the best of the very good Harold Lloyd. The Patsy and Achmed are very good as well. If unseen, they're certainly musts. I'm no fan of René Clair: Les Deux Timides is, like is other silents, among the few I can watch without being angry (I only like Les Grandes Manoeuvres and Quatorze juillet). I'd take a look at Neilan, although I begin to fear he's like Brenon or William K. Howard, always interesting and never great.
Miguel Marías

May 27, 2008 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I went to the festival a couple of years ago, where I met Michael and Brian. I saw everything. What I liked was the unexpected "discovery" of Au Bonheur de Femme. It was also nice that my companion of the time, who normally isn't interested in silent films, really enjoyed Show People, Seventh Heaven and Lulu. For a while, she was doing her own impression of Marion Davies.

May 27, 2008 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Mike Grost said...

The Soul of Youth is an outstanding drama. It is available on the Treasures from American Film Archives DVD, with lots of informative social commentary. In fact, it might be better seen there than in the theater. It includes footage of a real life judge, who invented the Juvenile Court system in the USA. Tons of background info on the DVD...
Director William Desmond Taylor is best known for being murdered. His other film on DVD, the 40-minute Tom Sawyer, is also a lyrical film about young people. Taylor will be better known as an artist, as soon as these films start to sink in.
I like The Kid Brother too.
The Patsy is slow going - proof that dreary "comedies" about dysfunctional families were not invented by modern day Independent Filmmakers! A dance at a club perks things up briefly. Not Vidor's best.
As for Michael: I have a film classic with my name! Everyone else: eat your heart out! Watched this on my birthday a few years back. The truism that the film resembles Gertrud is accurate, in feeling rather than film technique.

May 27, 2008 7:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Dan, Max, Miguel, Peter, Mike!

Dan, re: your recent post on Dover Koshashvili's Late Marriage, I like the film as well. Also, it has one of the most 'realistic' sex scenes I have ever seen in the cinema. Thanks for hipping me to Or (My Treasure), which I'm now very curious to see.

Max, that is fantastic news about Playtime in 70 mm! Indeed I will be getting to SF a day early.

Miguel, I've seen just 2 Tod Browning films, Freaks and The Devil-Doll, both repeated times. The varied and strong takes here on The Unknown are most intriguing!

Peter, I think I just might give the entire festival a shot too.

Mike, I saw your namesake film (which is indeed great) as part of a Benjamin Christensen series along with The Mysterious X and Haxan. And it's very useful to know about The Soul of Youth; the dvd collection is in my college library.

May 27, 2008 8:36 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

What wonderful news! I look forward to finally meeting you, girish. According to the current Castro schedule in front of me, Playtime is playing Tuesday the 8th and Wednesday the 9th, and the theatre is closed on Thursday the 10th. I've never known the theatre to be closed on a Thursday before, so perhaps Max knows something I don't about an extension of that two-day run.

As for the Silent Film Festival. Obviously, I'm biased, having discussed these films on a biweekly basis for months now, and having delved as deeply as possible into my research of Teinosuke Kinugasa's Jujiro without a) reading Japanese or b) having seen the film; normally the festival provides screeners for researchers but in this case there simply isn't one to be had, apparently. That's okay by me; I'm excited that my first chance to see the film will be on the Castro's screen, with Stephen Horne, who tore down the house with his score to a Cottage on Dartmoor last year, behind the grand piano.

I would recommend trying to see at least one film with each of the musical accompanists if you possibly can. Superstar Wurlitzer wizard Clark Wilson will be pulling out all the stops for the Man Who Laughs and the Patsy; the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is handling the Kid Brother (my favorite Lloyd) and the Silent Enemy; Donald Sosin, a tremendously versatile pianist and affable guy, is covering Michael and the Adventures of Prince Achmed; the Baguette Quartette (who I've never heard before) is doing Les Deux Timides; and longtime festival pianist Michael Mortilla is tinkling the keys for the free archival presentation and Her Wild Oat. Oh, and Horne is tackling the Soul of Youth, the Unknown as well as Jujiro. There's fewer organ scores this year, as Dennis James is performing in Europe during the festival weekend this time around. So definitely make sure to catch one of Clark Wilson's performances to hear the Castro Wurlitzer in action.

As much as I love the festival, I've never attended everything. The last two years I came close, missing only two programs. It's definitely a workout to pack in even a full day's schedule and I'm not sure how people like Peter are able to last the whole weekend (many do). But I think I'm going to try this time. Last year I skipped Maciste and Camille and didn't feel too awful about it, but this year I can't imagine what I'd skip. I've seen four of the selections before, but of those, the Kid Brother is something I'd like to see on a big screen with an audience any chance I can get, the Unknown and Prince Achmed are favorites I've only caught on home video and can't wait to see on the big screen, and the Man Who Laughs is one I'd like to give another shot, having been underwhelmed by it on the small screen. As for the films I've never seen before, I don't see anything expendable (though again I should note my bias as a member of the festival writing committee). The auteurist in me is dying to see the Dreyer, Vidor and Clair films. And that part of me that questions the auteurist orthodoxy is equally eager to see the films directed by William Desmond Taylor, Marshall Neilan and H.P. Carver.

This comment is already waaay too long, but let me add that I'll be happy to point to other things to do, places to eat, etc. during your free moments in town. If there's time, perhaps we can even squeeze in a mini-tour of some of Von Stroheim's locations for Greed...

May 28, 2008 3:56 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, wow, thanks so much for taking the time, and for all that handy advice! And from a member of the festival committee at that.

I'm an organ nut and will not miss the two Clark Wilson programs.The only flilm I'm trepidatious about is the one I most want to see, The Unknown: I'll be jet-lagged and it doesn't start till 2 am my time. The still from Jujiro (which I've seen at Hell on Frisco Bay before) is very arresting!

May 28, 2008 7:46 AM  
Blogger acquarello said...

Hey G, don't forget to stop by Karikter for all your Tintin gear, it used to be the old TT Globetrotter store. Definitely set a limit though, it's pretty easy to go nuts in there.

May 28, 2008 9:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Acquarello, that's perfect--I can do some advance Christmas shopping for my mom, who's a Tintin-head!

May 28, 2008 9:24 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I'm going to have to check out this kar'ikter store myself; I've never been.

And from a member of the festival committee at that.

Oh, hush! We've been blog buddies long before I joined the writing committee. I feel honored to be a part of it but I don't want to be placed on a pedestal for it; all I'm doing is writing a program essay and putting together a slideshow.

I'm just glad Michael had the presence of mind to invite you!

May 28, 2008 12:50 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Or, quite frankly, a mind at all....

May 28, 2008 7:20 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael and Brian, I just bought my air tickets, and I'm stoked.

May 28, 2008 8:34 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

My flight's been booked, too. As much as I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and checking out the Silent Film Fest for the first time, I think I'm even more excited about getting a plate of fillo at La Mediterranee. :)

May 28, 2008 11:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Darren, I'm so glad you'll be able to join me. And I have no idea what "fillo" is but count me in.

May 28, 2008 11:58 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Actually, that was going to be a recommendation of somewhere to eat in the neighborhood if you take time to get away from the Castro. If not it's combination sandwiches from Rossi's Deli snuck into the theater and devoured between films. I also bring a lot of nuts and trailmix and stuff like that and tend to bake a lot right around that time: cookies, turnovers. Usually I eat big breakfast, snack throughout the day. I've done the all-day thing but I find it's smarter to get some fresh air, walk a bit, sit down to eat. We can talk when you get here about what you might want to give up.

The meet and greet is starting to turn into a lovely soiree. Sean Axmaker will be in town and Jonathan Marlow will be bringing him by Casa Maya to meet us all. Matthew Kennedy will be bringing some local authors to mingle with us. How to empanadas de calabasa (pumpkin turnovers) sound?

May 29, 2008 1:29 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael, empanadas de calabasa sounds great. I miss Mexican food here in the Northeast. I've heard more than once of your legendary parties and I'm honored that you're throwing one for Darren and me!

May 29, 2008 11:27 AM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Do any fellow bay residents (ahem, SF residents) enjoy Kiji? It's a sushi joint on Guerrero & 22nd. You wouldn't think the Mission would offer high quality sushi, but I think it's pretty durned tasty and well worth the trip. That would have to be a non-screening venture, I guess, given its distance from the theatre, but if you have the time, Girish (&co.), I recommend it.

Also: I missed _Playtime_ in 70 a couple years ago when I was living elsewhere so I'm pretty excited to see it this time around. So perhaps I'll see the whole gang there?

May 29, 2008 1:30 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

Oh gosh, now all I want to do is eat instead of watch movies. Hey, whatever happened to that film/food blog we were all going to do? We've all got plenty of spare time, don't we?

May 29, 2008 5:00 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

girish, I think The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a must-see, if you haven't already. I caught it three times on the big screen, and still do when it shows on TCM.

May 30, 2008 2:35 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

"I have no idea what "fillo" is but count me in."

Girish, I think Doug and Rob took me to the La Mediterranee on Fillmore during my first trip to SF a couple years ago, and then I happened into it again last year. Fillo is a really thin, crispy dough. I'd been familiar with it as a sweet pastry (have you ever had baklava?), but La Mediterranee serves these amazing savory dishes with cheese and meat and vegetables. The chicken and cinnamon fillo there is like dessert.

Also, Michael's empanadas are ridiculously good.

May 30, 2008 9:30 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael & Darren, I was never one for desserts growing up but in the last 5 years, I've turned into a sugar-hound with random, dangerous cravings that strike from nowhere. And I love baklava. We must definitely make that trip for fillo.

Ry, I hope there's a screening of Playtime on Thursday, July 10. If so, I'll be there. I'd like to meet up with you to say hello when I'm in SF. Perhaps you'll be at one of the silent films? If not, let's make other plans.

Noel, I remember that the film was a favorite of Renoir's. I think he talks about it in his memoir.

May 30, 2008 9:57 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Tim Lucas at his blog:

"One of the outstanding stylists of 1960s fantastic cinema was Alfred Vohrer, who achieved his most lasting fame (such as it is) by directing the best of Rialto's Edgar Wallace krimi series: THE DEAD EYES OF LONDON, THE HEXER, THE COLLEGE GIRL MURDERS and THE HAND OF POWER, to name a few. It was Harald Reinl that initiated the Wallace series, and his series entries are also strong, but it was Vohrer who invested the krimis with most of their signature atmospheric traits; for example, having the main titles of these strikingly monochromatic films unreel with blood-red or full-color credits, filming scenes from the insides of characters' mouths [...]

"Looking at THE DEAD EYES OF LONDON again, I'm reminded how many of its set pieces were later recalled into service by Dario Argento: for example, the woman ascending a lengthy staircase to her apartment only to have the lights suddenly go out on the upper floors (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE), the elevator shaft killing (DEEP RED, TRAUMA), or the character who peers through a hole only to be shot through the eye by someone on the other side (OPERA); Vohrer's films also make frequent use of deranged artists, screaming chimps and squawking animals, all familiar signposts in Argento territory."

May 30, 2008 11:09 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

And the wonderful thing about La Med is that they have a location within walking distance of the Castro. I AM SO HUNGRY RIGHT NOW!!!

May 30, 2008 3:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael, on a related note, one thing I miss here in Buffalo is Mexican food. When I moved here, there were no Indian restaurants and Mexican food was the closest to back-home food for me. But lately, most of the Mexican places have closed. So I'll be looking to get my Mexican fix (and then some) when I'm in SF.

May 31, 2008 12:23 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Girish: If you find yourself in Denver, you'll want to check out my current neighborhood. Mostly Mexican restaurants in a still largely Chicano neighborhood, none of them part of any chains.

May 31, 2008 12:46 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

The night you arrive I'll prepare you a homecooked Mexican meal. If that's not enough to tide you over, I live above the Mission where Mexican, Yucatec, Salvadorean, and Nicaraguan food are in bountiful supply. Just the other night Frako Loden and I discovered the most incredible Yucatec restaurant near Valencia and 18th that had some of the best pibil I've ever tasted; pork that literally melts in your mouth.

May 31, 2008 2:24 AM  
Anonymous davis said...

It sounds like you have plenty of meals already lined up, but in case you're looking for other places near the Castro Theatre, a couple of my nearby faves not yet mentioned are:

- Underground Sushi Time. This tiny tube tucked under Market Street has about six tables and a small sushi bar. Not only is their miso and sushi really good, but they also play the Jackson Five on the stereo. Surrounded by kewpie dolls and maneki nekos, I imagine I'm in Tokyo when I eat there. (It's behind/beneath Books Inc. I hesitate to mention it out loud, since I've always considered it our secret, but since we're newly departed, you can take our table.)

- Lime. After a 9-something movie, stop in for a late night drink and a mini-meal. With all the bubbly furniture, it feels a little like having a martini with Judy Jetson, and the small plates are odd and tasty -- miniature burgers, tiny cupcakes. It's on Market not far from Sushi Time, quite a bit more conspicuous. In fact I avoided this place for a while because it looked like the sort of hip, hopping bar that's not my thing, but I was won over by the deviled eggs (and the steak tartar, which I never ordered).

- Samovar Tea Lounge. This is the place for a pot of good tea. Not the kind spiked with vanilla or jacked with fruit juice -- I mean actual aged pu-ehr, a variety of oolongs, whites, and greens, and a popular chai. As someone who doesn't drink coffee, this is -- err, was -- my primary hangout. They also serve small pan-Asian dishes. (I'm sensing a small theme.) Service can be a bit pokey, so don't expect to cram it in between movies.

I hate to miss the fest, especially this one! You guys will love it. It's a classy festival that draws big crowds in the evenings who come for the festivities. It always feels like more than just a series of films, and as I've mentioned to Girish in the past, it's one of my favorite film events in San Francisco. Last year I saw everything but Camille, and I probably should have ditched Maciste for a bite to eat, but all of the other programs were really good. I'd love to see Beggars of Life on a big screen again one day.

Brian, is Serge Bromberg back this year? His presentations of rarities are a hoot.

May 31, 2008 5:32 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

No Bromberg this year. French cinema is represented by the Clair film this time around. Maybe one of the student archivists in the film preservation program can be convinced to give us a nitrate-burning demonstration like Bromberg did last year, though.

Hope Chicago is treating your family kindly and beginning to open up its own secrets to you, Rob! We'll miss you at the festival!

May 31, 2008 7:27 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

That nitrate-burning demonstration had a magician's flare.

We will have to skip at least one of the films in order to dine at La Med; but, I'm going to leave that decision to Girish and Darren.

I've been having fun turning Casa Maya back into the Maya Diner. I've flipped flapjacks for Matthew Kennedy, film historian who has written on Marie Dressler, Edmund Goulding (who I have found thrillingly provocative) and--most recently--Joan Blondell. I interviewed him for the PFA Blondell series. Flipped flapjacks for Barry Jenkins and James Laxton, the duo behind Medicine for Melancholy; that interview for Greencine. Closer to Frameline I'm feeding the producer of Socket, the creative team behind The Sensei, and the director and co-author/leading man of Ciao, edited by none other than David Lowery. In a way, I'm in training preparing for your meet-and-greet, which is turning something quite spectacular. Can you believe it, even Graham Leggat has said he would stop by. You two better practice some funny jokes....

May 31, 2008 11:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael, Rob, Peter, Brian--Thanks, guys, for all the ideas! I have decided that even if it means missing a screening or two, I will occasionally trade my cinephilia for gastronomy! Rob, I'm a tea man as well and the Samovar Lounge sounds like a place I'd haunt if I lived in SF.

June 01, 2008 10:02 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael, I'm terrible at telling jokes or putting on a show. Maybe Darren can do that, and I can be the 'straight man'!

June 01, 2008 10:04 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I ain't gonna touch it. Heh.

June 01, 2008 10:11 PM  
Blogger whitney said...

I'll be at that silent film festival. I'll actually be volunteering. So if you see a girl in a t-shirt with bad hair, that's probably me!


June 11, 2008 4:37 AM  

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