Tag Archives: the general

SILENT AUTUMN 2014

5c4df-son-of-the-sheik

Every year between their regular annual festivals, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents a smaller, single day event at which patrons are treated to all the vibrancy and excitement of the regular festival, on a smaller scale. In the past, the event has taken place in the winter, but as this year’s large festival took place 2 months earlier than years past, what was previously Silent Winter became Silent Autumn in 2014. As usual, Backlots was there for the action.

The day began with Laurel and Hardy shorts, and though Saturday public transportation schedules impeded my ability to see all of them, I arrived in time to catch the final short. What I saw was choice. I have seen a good deal of Laurel and Hardy, and as a friend of mine put it, “It says a lot about Laurel and Hardy that when you just think about them, you smile.” Though I much prefer their silent comedies to their sound work, I must agree that seeing them in any situation puts a smile on the film fan’s face. I regret not seeing all the shorts, but I’m very lucky that I got there in time for the next showing…a rare treat.

Next up was Son of the Sheik, Rudolph Valentino’s final film and featuring a new score by the Alloy Orchestra. Introducing the movie was noted Valentino author (and friend of Backlots’) Donna Hill, who discussed in detail the intricacies of filming and Valentino’s life at the time. It was a glorious movie with a magnificent score, and Donna’s introduction was a perfect segue into the experience. Valentino has been well-represented at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival this year. The opening night movie of the main 2014 festival was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a real crowd-pleaser and a Valentino staple, and Son of the Sheik seems to be the ideal way to round out a very Valentino-centric year.

On the lineup after Son of the Sheik was a program from the BFI called A Night at the Cinema in 1914, showcasing several clips and shorts from that year recreating what a night at the cinema might have looked like. An eclectic program, featuring footage of the Austro-Hungarian royal family shortly after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a clip of a representative from the Shackleton Antarctica expedition inspecting the dogs that were to go on the trip, and an early Charlie Chaplin short set in, of all things, a movie theater. My favorite of the program was an uproariously low-budget short film called “Lieutenant Pimple and the Stolen Submarine.” Decades before Plan 9 From Outer Space, this short made the best of its low budget, complete with painted sea creatures and deliciously bad special effects. I have no doubt that if it were released today, it would become an instant cult classic.

“Lieutenant Pimple and the Stolen Submarine” (1914)

Following a lengthy dinner break came what was arguably the cornerstone of the festival, a showing of Buster Keaton’s comedy masterpiece The General. Though this film is shown often at silent film events and festivals, it never fails to draw a crowd and at 7:00, the Castro Theater was filled with devoted Buster Keaton fans waiting to see his most famed work. My mother, who became a budding silent film fan after I brought her to see Wings at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival several years ago, accompanied me to this screening and, I am proud to say, has now seen her first Buster Keaton film.

The General, Buster Keaton’s most famous feature-length film, tells the story of a train engineer in Georgia who is rejected from the army but ends up making quite an impact on the war anyway, in a way that only Buster Keaton can. Accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra, we saw Keaton and his co-star Marion Mack perform clever gags and alarmingly advanced stunts, as well as what is considered to be the most expensive stunt performed in the history of silent film (a train toppling over a burning bridge). One of the things that strikes me most about The General is the characterization of Keaton’s female lead. She is a truly feminist character, often the brains behind solving the film’s complications, unafraid to get herself dirty or scale the side of the train. It is a refreshing look at the “damsel in distress,” as this damsel could clearly take care of herself.

Buster Keaton and Marion Mack in THE GENERAL (1926)

The next film was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but my mom needed to get home and like a good daughter, I went with her. But yet again, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival met and exceeded my expectations, living up to my oft-repeated assertion that the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is the best festival of its kind on the West Coast.

The main festival is in late May of 2015, and Backlots will be there as always. Stay tuned!

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Announces Silent Autumn

Oh my heavens, readers. It has been way too long since my last post. I feel like I’m faulting at my post as a blogger–but I’ve been so extremely busy lately that it has been hard to find time to sit down and write a lengthy post.

A new announcement, however, brings me back. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, for which I have the highest respect, has announced Silent Autumn, a day-long mini film festival to take place in September at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.

In previous years, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has hosted a similar event called Silent Winter, but the festival is experimenting with scheduling this year. The 2014 main festival took place in May instead of July, and it seems that Silent Autumn has taken the place of Silent Winter. The lineup is fantastic. Here is what we have to look forward to when Silent Autumn takes place on September 20, 2014:

ANOTHER FINE MESS: Laurel and Hardy shorts (11:00 AM)

The Son of the Sheik (1:00 PM)

A Night at the Cinema in 1914 (3:30 PM), a celebration of the movies at the start of World War I

The General (7:00 PM)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (9:00 PM)

As usual, Backlots will be covering all the excitement. If you will be in the area and would like more information about the lineup, visit the San Francisco Silent Film Festival site here. It promises to be a very fun day!

I’m off to the East Coast on Tuesday, but I promise to make a post before I go. Lots of great things are happening in the classic film world right now, and Backlots will be right there on the pulse of it!

See you soon!

LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL DAY 4 (Closing Day): “Gilda,” Women of Early Hollywood, “It Happened One Night,” “The General,” Closing Night Party

By Lara Gabrielle Fowler

Well readers, the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival has come to a close. It has been a busy and very exciting 4 days, and your author is at once exhilarated, exhausted, and ready for next year!

In my humble opinion, this 4th day held the best lineup of the festival. Gilda was first on the agenda at the Egyptian Theatre, and though I had seen it on the big screen once before I was all too eager to see it again. The movie tells a story that is complex and hard to follow, but in all truth, the movie is not about the story. The audience is too busy watching Rita Hayworth to have any time for following a plot anyway. It is the ultimate noir, almost a caricature of the genre, and it really seems as though everything  that happens when Rita Hayworth is offscreen is just filler. Rita is the heart and soul of the movie, and because of her, the film is considered to be one of the great noir films of all time. Instead of trying to describe Rita in this movie with words, I will give you some clips so that if you haven’t seen this film, you will see what Gilda is all about.

Hayworth’s performance is rendered even more stunning when one examines who she was offscreen. By all accounts sweet, quiet, and timid, Rita Hayworth was the antithesis of the character of Gilda. She only gave a handful of interviews in her life due to paralyzing shyness, and Louella Parsons (who had met Rita as a teenager just starting her career) noted that she could barely look strangers in the eye. Here she is sultry, sexy, steamy, and an all-around tiger with every man she meets. Suffice it to say, I am of the opinion that Rita Hayworth was robbed of an Oscar nomination for this role.

Our next event happened in Club TCM, a discussion with Cari Beauchamp about women writers in early Hollywood, focusing specifically on Frances Marion. Beauchamp has produced a documentary on Frances Marion, and offered fascinating insight into who she was as a woman, as a writer, and as a member of a fledgling industry. Marion was extremely prolific–one surprising trivia bit Beauchamp related was that out of the 9 pictures nominated for Best Picture at the 1st Academy Awards, Frances Marion had written 7 of them. She eventually left the industry as it became increasingly production- and output-oriented, and she decided to pursue other tasks in which she did not have to compete. She became an accomplished sculptor and painter in her later years.

I must say that I find Cari Beauchamp to be one of the most fun, enthusiastic, and accessible film historians I have ever come across. She is a renowned scholar, and has written highly respected biographies and documentaries, yet her presentations are always down-to-earth and casual, with plenty of humor and no shortage of one-liners. As an example of a classic Cari Beauchamp utterance, she referred to the papers of Fred Thomson (Frances Marion’s husband), noting: “His stuff on de Mille is freaking hilarious.” She is very popular among us young classic film bloggers, enthusiasts, and devotees!

Next up was It Happened One Night, introduced by Cari Beauchamp once again. She pointed out a number of the continuity errors in the movie, ones which I had never noticed in my literally dozens of times seeing this movie. For example, in the famous “Man on the Flying Trapeze” number, the inside of the bus is rocking back and forth while the outside stays still. At one point, Claudette Colbert’s handkerchief disappears and reappears a number of times. The road Clark Gable drives on sometimes has a line, sometimes does not. Regardless of these errors, this movie remains the cream of the screwball comedy crop–one of the very first, and one of the very best.

The next movie was one I was very excited to see–not only is The General (1926) Buster Keaton’s best known film and arguably (or not arguably) his best, but the movie was to be shown at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, giving it the majestic treatment it deserves. The movie is about a young engineer in Georgia during the Civil War who wants to enlist in the army but is rejected because he would be more use to the South as an engineer. However, when he sits on the wheel of a train to think, the train starts and he is carried to an army base. Buster Keaton antics ensue, and he ends up foiling deserters, hearing enemy plots, and derailing trains from the North. It is Buster Keaton on a grand scale, and his antics are more polished and refined in this movie than they are in his shorts or even his other feature films. I am used to a Buster Keaton whose comedy is mostly slapstick, but this film highlights his ability to create subtle humor through facial expressions. One scene in particular stands out for me–when Buster sees yet another obstacle in his path, he expresses his incredulity through blinks of his eyes. It gives the audience a clear view of what he is feeling, yet Buster never for a minute lets go of his famous deadpan face.

Keaton was also known for dangerous stunts that he performed himself. Here are some stunts from the movie that demonstrate what he was capable of.

The General marked the final event of the TCM Classic Film Festival. A closing night party tied off the festivities, during which we said goodbye to friends and acquaintances that we met here, and even made plans to meet up again before the next festival. I always have fun at the TCM Classic Film Festival, and I can’t wait for next year!

Thank you, dear readers, for following along during these 4 days that seem to have gone by so quickly. I hope you enjoyed this coverage, and I will be resuming regular blogging duties upon arrival back home, including catching up on the Carole Lombard Filmography Project.

See you soon!