Here comes the San Francisco Silent Film Festival


The programme for the 14th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival has been announced. The festival runs 10-12 July 2009 at its traditional home at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

Among the festival highlights are Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Velez in The Gaucho, Lillian Gish in Victor Sjöström’s sublime The Wind, John Gilbert in the joyously redisicovered Bardelys the Magnificent, W.C. Fields in So’s Your Old Man, gthe 1932 Chinese silent Wild Rose (illustrated) with Jin Yan, plus programmes devoted to Mary Pickford (the centenary of whose screen debut is marked this year) and Walt Disney’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

There are classic films from the USA, USSR, Czechoslovakia and China; and a starry line-up of the world’s leading silent film musicians. And perhaps to top it all, Dennis James accompanies Aelita, Queen of Mars on the Theremin.

This is the line-up:

The Gaucho 7PM

Amazing Tales from the Archives 10AM
Bardelys the Magnificent 12 noon
Wild Rose 2:30PM
Underworld 5PM
The Wind 7:30PM
Aelita, Queen of Mars 9:45PM

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit 10:30AM
Erotikon 1:30PM
So’s Your Old Man 4PM
The Fall of the House of Usher 6:15PM
Lady of the Pavements 8:15PM

Well, that’s a corking programme to be sure, further details of which are available on the festival site, along with the usual booking details, venue information, hotels etc. Or there’s the full press release to tell you more, as follows:

Tickets are on sale now for the foremost celebration of silent cinema in the Americas -The 14th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, scheduled for July 10-12 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

In the space of a mere three days audiences will have the chance to experience the breathtaking vitality and depth of the silent era with 12 programs of classic films and rediscoveries-complete with live musical accompaniment in a grand movie palace setting!

Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, Lillian Gish – superstars of the silent era, all – are just a few of the legendary talents returning to the big screen, and we’re thrilled to welcome back some of the finest musicians to match music to image – including Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Philip Carli, Stephen Horne, Dennis James, and Donald Sosin.

Mont Alto will premiere its brand new original score, written expressly for the Silent Film Festival, to accompany our Opening Night presentation of THE GAUCHO (1927), starring Douglas Fairbanks and the revelation of the festival – Lupe Velez. Fairbanks, a huge star at the time, wrote this glorious adventure and generously shares the spotlight with the dazzling newcomer in her first starring role. Mont Alto will also accompany the West Coast Premiere of the restored legendary “lost” King Vidor film starring John Gillbert, BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT (1927), as well as playing for the Czech scorcher, EROTIKON (1929).

Pianist Stephen Horne of the National Film Theatre in London will return to accompany Jean Epstein’s surrealist masterpiece – THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1928). Luis Buñuel, fresh from his collaboration with Salvador Dali on Un Chien Andalou, assisted Epstein on this French take on USHER. Horne will also play for Josef von Sternberg’s proto-noir UNDERWORLD (1927), which will be introduced by the Noir City’s Eddie Muller; and AMAZING TALES FROM THE ARCHIVES, the fourth edition of our free-admission spotlight on film preservation. This special program will include the World Premiere of SCREEN SNAPSHOTS – 7TH SERIES, a rare short subject preserved by last year’s recipient of our Silent Film Festival Preservation Fellowship, Anne Smatla. We will
announce this year’s Fellowship recipient at this program.

Philip Carli of George Eastman House, returns to the baby grand to accompany our Director’s Pick program. Director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World, Bad Santa) has selected the rarely-screened comic gem SO’S YOUR OLD MAN, featuring the hilarious comedian W.C. Fields – a star well known for his work in talking pictures who proves to be a master of the silent screen as well!

The gloriously rousing Chinese film WILD ROSE (1932) starring Jin Yan, the Valentino of China will be accompanied by master pianist Donald Sosin, and the 2009 Silent Film Festival Award will be presented at this program to the Chinese Film Archive. Yan’s widow Qin Yi, herself a celebrated entertainer in China, will introduce the program. Sosin will also accompany our family-friendly matinee program, featuring the wonderful Disney character OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT (1927-1928). Leonard Maltin and animator Ub Iwerks’ granddaughter Leslie Iwerks will guide us through this enchanted animated program.

Our Closing Night film will be D.W. Griffith’s last silent film – LADY OF THE PAVEMENTS (1929), starring the beautiful Lupe Velez – who opens the festival as well! With its splendid cinematic flourishes, LADY marks the master’s return to the cinematic firmament after years in the critical wilderness. The film was completed as a silent, then partially re-shot to qualify as a part-talkie including two musical numbers – Griffith’s innovative experimentation with “sound modulation.” Our presentation will include piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin, and vocal recreation of the musical numbers by Joanna Seaton!

The master of the Mighty Wurlitzer, Dennis James, will premiere his original score – commissioned by the Silent Film Festival – at our Centerpiece Presentation of Victor Sjöström’s brilliant THE WIND (1928), starring Lillian Gish in her finest role. Along with Griffith and Murnau, Swedish director Sjöström was one of the giants of the silent era who convinced critics that the motion picture was not a bastard child of the stage, but a vital art form in its own right. Our presentation will include a special wind effect (the kind used in silent movie scores in the 1920s)! The Centerpiece Presentation will be introduced by Leonard Maltin. James will also accompany the delirious Soviet futurist drama AELITA, QUEEN OF MARS (1924) on the Mighty Wurllitzer and the Theremin, backed up by Mark Goldstein on the Buchla Lightning!

This year we celebrate Biograph Studios, director D.W. Griffith, and the company’s most famous star Mary Pickford. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Pickford’s screen debut and to celebrate the centenary of her career on the silver screen, we will present several shorts featuring America’s Sweetheart, as well as recent preserved and restored Biograph titles from the Library of Congress and George Eastman House.

McRoskey Mattress Company will once again be the festival’s lead sponsor. As part of their sponsorship they have generously donated a Salem Day Bed (a $2,700 value) which will go to the lucky winner of our Grand Prize Raffle!

For complete program information and to buy tickets, please visit