This evening’s kickoff for the 19th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival was an event of epic proportions. In honor of the anniversary of World War I, the festival opened with the monumental Rex Ingram/Rudolph Valentino collaboration The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), a movie that features “quite literally, a cast of thousands,” in the words of festival president Rob Byrne. The movie is so long that it requires an intermission, and packs a punch with its grim imagery and deep metaphors. This is all aside from the fact that for the majority of the movie, the timeless suave beauty of Rudolph Valentino lights up the screen, creating an impression on the mind that is difficult to forget.
The plot is quite vague, but when Valentino is on the screen, a plot is rendered unnecessary. The crux of the movie is that Valentino plays the grandson of a wealthy Argentinian who finds himself fighting in World War I on the side of the French, opposite his half-German cousins. The movie takes a staunch anti-war attitude, and the title relates the biblical description of the four horsemen of the apocalypse to the ravages of war. It is a complex and highly philosophical movie, with symbolism interweaving and juxtaposing war and religion.
In addition, if the audience member is familiar with the history of World War I, it is fascinating to look at the realities of what World War I wrought on the world and the biblical description of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Watching the part of the movie seen above, I was reminded of just how much the concepts of conquest, war, famine and death drove World War I from its beginning to its end. The idea to tie those two things together in a movie is sheer brilliance.
I was immensely impressed with this movie. It was a film ahead of its time, complete with advanced special effects and hand-painted color on the film in addition to its complex inferences. A raw and touching tribute to those who have experienced the pain of war.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was accompanied by the wonderful Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Mont Alto is a mainstay at this festival, and as one of the few motion picture orchestras in existence, does very well traveling to film festivals around the country. It is a truly remarkable group, and this evening they played their own original score to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, receiving a standing ovation at the end.
After the movie, we headed down to the Opening Night Party at the McRoskey Mattress Company, where we were treated to wonderful live music and great food. It was a chance to mingle with other festival attendees, who often have similar niche interests, and I had a wonderful time chatting with several people who share mine. We finally headed home around midnight, exhausted from a very full and rewarding evening.
Tomorrow’s schedule starts at 10:00 AM, so be sure to tune in on the live tweets!