S.F. Silent Film Festval: Resurrecting Napoleon, Fiercely Debating Modern Musical Scores

Einar Hanson and Mary Johnson in The Blizzard

The 16th San Francisco Silent Film Festival reached a triumphant conclusion Sunday after four full days of nonspeaking – but not mute – cinema at the Castro. Founded in 1994 by a small band of enthusiasts, the “SF Squared” Festival, as it's been nicknamed, has expanded into one of the nation's best venues for century-old movies, a travel destination for hundreds of film buffs and historians the world over.

The films aside, the festival's two highlights involved some very public discourse. Historian Kevin Brownlow's Sunday morning memory of his years of struggle in restoring Abel Gance's four-hour-plus epic Napoleon held its lucky auditors spellbound, the gentle English wizard unveiling hitherto unseen footage dating back to extracts from the original 17.5 mm reel of the film he'd discovered as a teenager, the reel that inspired his lifelong quest to restore its shattered glory.

The festival's big announcement had come Thursday, with the news of four days' worth of a complete screening of the restored Napoleon coming to Oakland's Paramount Theatre in March. Brownlow appeared at this announcement as well, not so gently: “I order you to come!” he declaimed.

 

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