Monday, July 13, 2009

SF Silent Film Fest & Thoughts of Film

This last weekend the San Francisco Silent Film Festival was at the Castro Theatre. I've written program essays and pre-show slide presentations for the festival in a committee for about seven years. I took last year off to give myself time to learn to sew. For this year's festival, I just wrote and produced images for the pre-show presentation for the Chinese film "The Wild Rose" (1932). I am excited this year that the festival has begun to post the program essays on their website. The last essay I wrote for them is up: under Title, click on "Maciste" (Italy, 1915).

This year, my favorite film was "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1928). Silent film does surreal and fantastic better than any other genre of film. The film was accompanied by the incredibly impressive Stephen Horne. If you hear his name, see the film regardless. He is truly amazing: piano one hand, flute in the other, sound loops and odd noises, choral clips all woven into a perfect audio experience that supported and enhanced the film.

Also today I learned something that made me ponder film for the rest of the day. I hear from a work-friend that her nephew, now eight years old, has never once seen a movie. His parents have strong ideas on child rearing and want him to grow up without the influence of media.

My first thought was shock. How, what, eh? My second thought was how much fun, someday, someone will have sharing his first movie experience - start from the beginning with the Lumiere Bros. or something like The Matrix? It's true that children for hundred, nay, thousands of years lived without movies...

As I walked to my train after work I thought a lot about what you could gain from clearing your childhood schedule of movies and television; but also what you would lose. Stream of consciousness and the warm Summer weather brought to mind two wonderful summers of movie-watching. I must have been 10 and 11 and the year would have been approx. 1978-1979 (yeow, when did I get so old, ack!). I walked with friends or caught a ride to the San Carlos Theatre with a Summer movie pass in my hand. I can't say how much it cost, but I do remember it got you into the daily, afternoon double-feature including I think the entire catalog of Disney live-action kid movies like The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, Escape to Witch Mountain, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones , The Shaggy D.A., The Parent Trap, plus classic adventure films like Jason and the Argonauts with effects and animation by the great Ray Harryhausen.

Jason fights the skeletons from "Jason and the Argonauts,"
creature animation by the legendary Harryhausen

Haley Mills and Hayley Mills in "The Parent Trap" (1961)

I remember sitting in the cool, dark theater in the height of a hot California Summer with my smuggled candy. Those afternoons in the dark shaped my obsessions and passions for fantastic stories (politicians who turn into dogs, skeletons fighting you at every turn, Kurt Russell becoming the smartest teenager in the world, child-witches who were really aliens from space driving around in a motor home) and well, sitting in the dark: the anticipation, the ritual of the curtains opening -- hearing the mechanical click and whirr in the hush of the dark silence, the rustle of popcorn bags. Despite all the benefits, I can't imagine losing out on this experience.

1 comment:

  1. Jason and the Argonauts is one of my favorite movies. Harryhausen in general made some of my faves for that peculiar early genre of sci-fi/fantasy(?), whatever category it could be placed in today.

    I am sad I missed Fall of the House of Usher. Another time, hopefully!