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article imageOp-Ed: San Francisco Silent Film Festival weeks away Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jun 21, 2012 in Entertainment
San Francisco - The schedule for the 17th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival arrived in the mail the other day, this reporter was eager to look at the schedule to find out what films are lined up for the four-day festival.
The very first film Opening Night is "Wings," from 1927 starring Clara Bow "the 'It' Girl." "Wings" was the very first film to win an Academy Award, when it was first instituted more than 80 years ago.
"We've hit the ground running and ticket and pass sales are ahead of last year at this time, so we hope and expect to surpass last year's attendance," said artistic director Anita Monga.
Some films included at the festival have been seen before and are well known by most movie-goers. 'Yes, 'Wings' was presented before, as was 'Pandora's Box,'" said Monga, She responded to this reporter's inquiries about the upcoming festival that is three weeks or so away.
"We consider our presentations 'live cinema,' she noted. "Each performance (or showing) creates something individual and particular," Monga said. She explained that, "For instance, films will be presented in major restorations, our musical accompaniment will be completely different than when they were presented previously," she said. Also, with the 'Pandora's Box' restoration, and for 'Wings' the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is creating a new composition that will be joined with live Foley created by Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt.
Even if people have seen a favorite movie once before at the film festival each musical accompaniment will still be completely different than when they were presented previously, because the all accompaniment is performed live. And, still even if an audience knows the story scene by scene there is just 'something' about it. Yet, like the festival's motto says, "True art transcends time." Some of these films can be seen over and over and at least for this reporter, something more can be discovered with each viewing.
SF Silent Film Festival fan Tim Vigil agrees. He tries to attend at least one scheduled movie each year. "I have purchased season passes before," he said. Even when he thought the prices a bit high (for someone on a budget) he knows that the proceeds go to the preservation and restoration of some of the world's most important vintage artistic achievements in film. Case in point, think of the two Academy-Award-winning films from last year, "Hugo" and "The Artist." Both films highlighted aspects from the best of the silent film era. Vigil considered that a testimony that even though the 21st Century prides itself on "special effects" and highly stimulating visuals with tremendous sound, aspects of the silent era remain.
Going to the silent film festival is an experience as is going to any and all film festivals. Live audience makes the difference.
Like many people, I (this reporter) prefer watching movies in the comfort of home. Yet, to fully appreciate silent films, especially it is very important to see them in a movie theater with a full screen and of course with live music. The SF Film Festival goes to great efforts to provide movie-goers with the best live-music accompaniment that an orchestra or accomplished organist can provide.
There is something very special about seeing a truly vintage film with live music. The energy, the artistry seems to bring more depth and of course the audience is transported to another dimension to experience the grandeur. Being able to experience a silent film along with an audience also makes the experience more edifying.
A few years ago I was able to experience the film "Tepeyac." It was truly was an experience like none other that I had before. An original score had been composed just for the film festival showing and it was memorable. For this reporter, the depth of the film was even more poignant as the live music score brought an immediacy to the film that I would not have captured sitting at home seeing it on video.
Many of the films of the silent film era were on an epic scale. And, while this film from Mexico dealt with a basic concept, "religious devotion" the scale and artistry within which the familiar legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe was told was outstanding. The cinematography, while seemingly primitive by our current "high-tech" standards, was well-done and thoughtfully detailed. Merging a story line of a then-contemporary 1917 Mexico with the 16th Century was presented in such away that it all made sense and helped provide not only a historical context but provided insight into human emotion in times of crisis.
This reporter has also been at the silent film festival for comedies of which many silent films are well-noted for. One year I attended a Harold Lloyd film and it was a delight. The audience laughed and laughed, it was as if the movie had been made yesterday. It's comedic content and timing was universal. Epics are especially alluring for audiences. This past March a restored and gloriously resurrected "Napoleon" premiered at The Paramount Theater in Oakland. "It was glorious," said Blanche Streeter, who has always had a love for classics. Streeter should know because she is a fan and avid supporter of the San Francisco Opera, SF Symphony and Ballet. Many of the silent films, are on that scale of some of the epic tales familiar to opera audiences.
Festivals like the SF Silent Film Festival help to raise funds to preserve vintage film. And, seeing old movies reaffirms the fact that movies are international, universal and yes, "timeless" in that movie-making as an art-form will continue to be a treasure well into the next century, millennium and beyond.
"A couple of things have snapped into place in the days since the schedule came out," said Monga. "Philip Kaufman will be presenting 'The wonderful life of Nina Petrovna' as his Director's Pick on Friday, July 13." Monga also noted that "The Silent Film Festival Award for excellence in silent-era preservation and exhibition will be presented at the Saturday afternoon screening of 'The Canadian.'"
For more information about this year's film festival, visit the San Francisco Silent Film Festival web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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