Legendary Silence

Contemporary moviegoers often view the silent era as a kind of crude training ground deservedly relegated to the attic (with great-grandmother’s scrapbooks) by the advent of talking pictures. The demonstrated cure for those ill-informed prejudices isn’t a paragraph of perfumed prose, but rather any program at the impeccable yet irreverent San Francisco Silent Film Festival. There’s literally something for everyone over the course of the weekend, from epic melodrama to Czech eroticism, from psychological horror to Soviet science fiction. The fest gets off to a stampeding start Friday with The Gaucho, starring original action hero Douglas Fairbanks as an Argentine bandit and wild thing Lupe Velez as his love interest, backed by the Mont Alto Picture Orchestra debuting its original score. Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin drops by on Saturday to introduce The Wind, the path-breaking pairing of Swedish maestro Victor Sjöström and the immortal Lillian Gish, and local iconoclast Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) warms up Sunday’s crowd for the W.C. Fields romp So’s Your Old Man. Truth be told, with its unparalleled access to rarities, superlative prints, and only-in-San Francisco audience participation — we’re looking at you, Art Deco Society of California — the Silent Film Fest has a gift for turning every show into a special event.
July 10-12, 2009

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