Quiet on the Set

Among the legions of innovative directors of the silent era, D.W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation), Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments), and Abel Gance (Napoleon) reign supreme as masters of the epic. Their crazily ambitious movies were big-screen events that galvanized moviegoers eager to surrender to thundering action, jaw-dropping effects, and shameless emotional manipulation. (Not much has changed, you might note.) The U.S. premiere of Gance’s restored J’Accuse — the centerpiece and certified highlight of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s fifth annual daylong Winter Event — provokes the same excitement among the cognoscenti. Released in 1919, the two-and-a-half-hour-plus film devastatingly and poetically conveyed the worldwide hope that the Great War would become the War to End All Wars. That didn’t turn out so well, of course, and soldiers are still dying for dubious reasons in far-flung places. (Again, not much has changed.) All of which makes J’Accuse not just the most timeless movie of this holiday season, but the most timely. If you’re unmoved by guts and glory and the power of love, the rest of the festival's characteristically eclectic lineup is first-rate, too.
Sat., Dec. 12, 11:30 a.m., 2009

 
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