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The Sound of Silence 

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is worth making noise about

Wednesday, Jul 4 2001
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San Francisco these days is a city of sounds -- from the reassuring thud of dot-commer skulls hitting the pavement to the happy squeal of SUV brakes as they introduce yet another pedestrian to unaided flight. For those rattled souls seeking a respite from this second-rate symphony, there's no better place than the sixth edition of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

There have been filmed Peter Pans aplenty, but Herbert Brenon's 1924 version stands out as perhaps the most charming. Seventeen-year-old Betty Bronson soars as cinema's first gendernaut, poignantly embodying J.M. Barrie's theme of the fleeting pleasures of childhood while boldly exploiting the story's gender-bending undertones in provocative scenes with Wendy.

Legendary auteur Oscar Micheaux weighs in with his second (and only surviving) feature, Within Our Gates (1919). Made in response to Birth of a Nation, Gates was widely rejected by both black and white audiences for its harrowing scenes of lynching and attempted rape, which still pack a punch even in these jaded times. On a campier note is Maciste All'Inferno (Maciste in Hell; 1926), a precursor to all those '60s Italian sword 'n' sandal epics starring musclemen in butt-thongs. Maciste looks more like an overweight janitor than a bodybuilder, but all is forgiven when he goes to hell, a fabulous comic-Boschian nightmare where he fights dragons and devils and flirts with scantily clad temptresses.

Finally, there's It (1927), the original flapper-girl flick. Clara Bow excels as the sexy-sincere shopgirl on the make for her boss. Written by Elinor Glyn, It brought wolf-whistles from F. Scott Fitzgerald and made Bow an international sensation. Her doomed-diva status (emotional problems ended her career in 1933) makes this of special interest to scandalmongers, but her freshness and simpatico make her -- and the "it" she made famous -- as captivating today as back then.

About The Author

Gary Morris

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